“A widely held, but rarely articulated, belief in our society is that the ideal self is bold, alpha, gregarious,” says Cain. “Introversion is viewed somewhere between disappointment and pathology.”
The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test, used in major universities and corporations. By Cain’s definition, introverts prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. Conversely, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.
It was over the last century, says Cain, that society began reshaping itself as an extrovert’s paradise—to the introvert’s demise. She explains that before the twentieth century, we lived in what historians called a “culture of character,” when you were expected to conduct yourself morally with quiet integrity. But when people starting flocking to the cities and working for big businesses the question became, how do I stand out in a crowd? We morphed into a “culture of personality,” which she says sparked a fascination with glittering movie stars, bubbly employees and outgoing leadership.
In the last few decades, this “Extrovert Ideal” has transformed workplaces, says Cain. Independent, autonomous work that favored employee privacy was eroded and practically replaced by what she calls “The New Groupthink,” which “elevates teamwork above all else.” Children now learn in groups. Ideas are formed in brainstorming sessions. Talkers are considered smarter. Employees are hired for “people skills,” and offices are designed to be open and interactive.
Yet, according to Cain, it’s only worked to damage innovation and productivity. Research shows that charismatic leaders earn bigger paychecks but do not have better corporate performance; that brainstorming results in lower quality ideas and the more vocally assertive extroverts are the most likely to be heard; that the amount of space allotted to each employee shrunk 60% since the 1970s; and that open office plans are associated with reduced concentration and productivity, impaired memory, higher turnover and increased illness.