May 23

The Power of Introverts

What is it that links the following things? 

  • The theory of gravity 

  • The theory of relativity 

  • Peter Pan 

  • Google 

  • Chopin’s nocturnes 

It might be hard, at first glance, to find a link between the items on this diverse list. Some are books, others music, some scientific theories and others technologies. Perhaps we can say that they are all world-famous and have contributed to ‘improving’ society in some way, shape or form. That much is certainly true but there is another link and it’s one that may surprise you. Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Frederic Chopin, J. M. Barrie and Larry Page – the creators of these life-advancing, life-enhancing theories, art and technology – were all (or are still) introverts. 

Why is it surprising to us that these world-changing things were created by introverts? Well, it’s because we live in a world that teaches us that people who are loud, talkative and confident being the centre of attention are the most successful in life and contribute most to the world. Writer Susan Cain, in her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, calls it the “Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight”[1], someone who prefers action over contemplation, enjoys risk-taking and socialises in groups.  

For years, society has conditioned us to believe that people who display traits of introversion – people who are quietly contemplative, who spend time thinking and observing before they speak and who are comfortable working and being alone (and, in fact, who might need to spend time alone to recharge their batteries after socialising) – are shy, under-confident and, therefore, not as successful. As Cain says in her book, introversion is often seen as a “second class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology”[2]. But this negative view of introversion could not be further from the truth.  

Research has shown that introverts make good leaders precisely because they spend time reflecting, are inclined to listen to others and have a lack of interest in dominating social situations[3]. They are more likely to hear and implement suggestions and, thereby, motivate their followers to be even more proactive.   

It is important, then, in the world of education that we do not privilege extroversion over introversion. There is room – and indeed a need – for both approaches in schools and, later, in the world of work. At Blackheath High, we recognise that all our students – and staff – have different personality types, some extroverted and some introverted. We do not fall into the trap of equating introversion with shyness (although the two can often look the same) and we celebrate the fact that everyone approaches work – and life – differently. We do not label girls as “quiet” and say that they should speak up more, as if to suggest that the people with the loudest voices always say the most interesting things. There is as much power in the quiet reflection of an introvert, who observes carefully the actions and thoughts of others before coming to their own conclusions, as there is in the out-loud thinking, public decision making of an extrovert. 

[1] Cain, Susan, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, p. 4 

[2] Cain, Susan, Quiet, p. 4. 

[3] Cain, Susan, Quiet, p. 55. 


Written by Mr Queripel, Deputy Head of Junior School (Academic)

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