Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Day of Classes but Really a Set of Comments on Introversion

After having six months of an 8-5 work-type schedule where I was mostly solitary (no other LGOs at GM and no other LGO interns at any company for hundreds of miles), coming back to a more erratic school schedule filled with lots of people and lots of demands on my time has honestly felt a little strange.

A while ago I had been looking at a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  After speaking with an MIT alumna at the end of January who personally recommended the book, I made the jump to purchase it and have been glad I did.  It covers things that I wish we covered or acknowledged more in B-school leadership classes, beyond leadership capabilities and ethics.

(A side note and my personal soapbox - if you need mandatory classes or workshops on ethics then, to me, it says that many people in the past have been coming out of your program and doing unethical things.  To me, forcing ethics upon students means that you do not trust them or have enough faith in them to act well.  Perhaps this is being idealistic; I hope not though.)

Anyway, a couple sections in reading the book have stuck out to me so far:

  • When the author, Susan Cain, interviews students at HBS and asks about whether introverts exist, "the student who wishes me luck in finding an introvert at HBS no doubt believes that there are none to be found."  The author comments on finding and speaking with an introvert who reflects, "students at HBS go out several nights a week ... Participation isn't mandatory, but it feels as if it is to those who don't thrive on group activities."
I think this 'all on all the time' idea is still true but to a somewhat less extent at MIT Sloan.  I pick the HBS example because HBS was the business school the author visited and it is at least parallel, if not entirely equivalent, to experiences here at Sloan.

Earlier in the book Susan discusses how the US evolved from a culture of character to a culture of personality.

  • The "word personality didn't exist in the English language until the eighteenth century and the idea of 'having a good personality' was not widespread until the twentieth."
  • Character traits such as Duty, Honor, Manners were things that "anyone could work at improving." "But new self-help guides [of the 1920s] celebrated qualities [...] that were trickier to acquire.  Either you embodied these qualities or you didn't: Fascinating, Energetic, Forceful, etc."

Finally, the section I've most recently been reading is one about how creativity and innovative work are not necessarily best fostered by teams, group brainstorming and open floor plans, often it is best done in a more solitary manner.  Once I got to this part in the book, I began to wonder if the mini breakouts of various classes, when we spend time talking though a question or idea in groups of 3-4, are always as helpful as they could be.  I wonder how the class would react if a professor had students take the same amount of time in class as normal to analyze a problem, but with the condition that they silently think about the solution to themselves.

Even though it's awesome that LGO got new study carols for the office, the walls are shorter between desks that face each other than they used to be, and some of the desks next to each other side to side don't have any walls between them at all now.  At first I was happy to have new shiny desks, but, when I finally thought it through, I realized I missed the more private library cubby hole style rather than the more open "collaborative" arrangement.

Yes, I am the first to admit I'm an introvert and yes, I'll be the first to admit that it's an uncommon at business school.  Maybe it's more common though and people just aren't admitting it.  I want to clarify that it's not that introverts always want to hide away and not talk to anyone - not true - instead it's that all the socializing, though it's nice to see people, can be tiring rather than energizing.  So please, when it comes to leaders and thinkers, remember us quiet ones; just because we're not "Magnetic" doesn't mean we don't have a lot to offer.


  1. Awesome post Victoria. I agree with you and think that it would be a great experiment to think on our own for several minutes in place of group discussions.

  2. excellent post dear. I also agree with u.


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