In the weeks after “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” hit bookstores in January of 2012, author Susan Cain was swimming in “Thank You” notes.
Cain, a lawyer-turned-writer, was getting letters from high-powered introverted military officials and quiet soccer mums alike. Their message was clear: Because of “Quiet,” they finally felt like they had permission to be themselves.
“Quiet” stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 16 weeks, peaking at No. 4. To date it has sold more than two million copies worldwide. It triggered a swarm of news stories, quirky listicles, thoughtful think pieces, and even its own “For Dummies” book — all centering on how introversion is something to be praised, not shunned.
Cain’s TED talk, now one of the franchise’s most beloved, has been viewed nearly 12 million times.
But the success felt incomplete.
“As I read those letters, I just thought that there was so much more to be done, and it didn’t feel right to leave the work unfinished,” Cain told me recently. “So that’s why I started Quiet Revolution.”
Quiet Revolution is the next step in Cain’s quest to organise the quiet types of the world. Started in 2013, the for-profit company is offering its consulting services to businesses on how to manage introverted employees. Later this fall, it will start educating parents of quiet children through online e-courses. And one day it hopes to break into TV and books in an effort to reshape the pop culture landscape.
The overarching goal through all that:
rebalance the power between the extroverted social butterflies, who have long profited from the American insistence on being affable, and the introverts, whose brilliance operates at a softer volume.
The home base for Cain’s startup is the Quiet House, an old Victorian home on the Hudson River, near Nyack, NY.
Tucked into the surrounding foliage, the structure is a physical embodiment of the people who work there. Some staffers pop in occasionally, some commute every day — Cain isn’t fussy. The 12-person team even has a policy that meetings can’t start before 12:30pm, so each person can have the morning to themselves.
The company’s early goal is simply to get as many bodies behind their mission as possible.
They’re already making noise:
- Since July 2014, The Quiet Leadership Institute has joined forces with NASA, historically an agency composed of introverts, to bring the virtues of introversion into boardrooms, through both in-person and online classes. In that time, more than 100 bosses have learned the unique skills required to manage introverted employees, who currently make up between one-third and one-half of the American workforce.
- The Quiet Leadership Institute also has a partnership with the design firm Steelcase to solve the problem of noisy workplaces sapping introverts of their creative juices. The brainchild of their collaboration are Quiet Spaces, plush, intimate rooms meant to drown out the distractions of office chitchat. Steelcase offers them in five varieties, all currently on sale.
The point of all this work is to show the world just how common it is for introverts to go unnoticed. Higher-ups can be forgiven for asking their employees to be sociable; they probably just have an imperfect understanding of how productivity works.
“You see so many companies that have very extroverted cultures, but for their creativity and their R&D they’re dependent on workforces that skew more introverted,” Cain says. “So there’s a really interesting disconnect there.”
The same respect is given to the millions of individuals Cain hopes to reach, as Quiet Revolution understands that asking them to leave their homes for meet-ups can be a tall order. So the community is online.
“We’re talking about introverts,” Cain says. “So we thought it’d be better to begin by giving people a virtual realm.”
While the site may look rather plain to the uninitiated, that’s kind of the point. It’s built entirely in the low-stimulation introvert aesthetic: stark, structured, and, according to this introvert, actually kind of homey. The more I click through the site, the more its oceans of white space reveal themselves as a welcome source of calm.
“We take a lot of care to make sure everything that we’re doing is beautiful,” Cain told me. It’s part of the company’s mission to inspire introverts by creating spaces they’d like to inhabit.
Powering the company’s online presence is a team of over 30 writers. The editorial voice is like a safe haven-meets-survival guide, complete with nuggets of academic research, quizzes, quick tips, and memoiric posts that say “Hey, I’ve been there.”
If the company’s mission strikes a chord with online visitors, Quiet Revolution encourages them to submit an anecdote of their own. In uploading their stories through the site, visitors are welcomed into the company’s “Tribe” as a Quiet Revolutionary. (Cain is the Chief Revolutionary.) And in conjunction with the Writopia Lab, kids can submit their own introvert accounts to the site’s Quiet Diaries.
Quiet Revolution CEO and co-founder Paul Scibetta says the company isn’t disclosing its quantitative goals just yet, but acknowledges that they “have exceeded our expectations.”
Cain is most excited about the opportunities to come. Later this September, Quiet Revolution is unveiling an online course for parents of quiet children. “It’s to help you with all the millions of decisions that come up,” Cain says. Among them: Do you make your daughter go to the birthday party or do you let her stay home? How much should kids be talking at the dinner table? What’s the difference between solitude and sadness?
Getting parents on-board is only half the battle. Kids spend half their time at school, the epicentre of extroverted ideals, a place where participation is prized and the quiet ones are coaxed from their shells. Administrators have reached out for help, but a lecture from Susan Cain isn’t enough to affect real change. And Cain knows it.
“Basically what happened is I started to drown in speaking invitations from schools,” she says. “And I felt frustrated by the limited impact of giving one speech for an hour and leaving.”
In a perfect world, administrators would take a closer look at their students to see that kids aren’t one-size-fits-all and that lesson plans shouldn’t be either. The quiet ones require a little more careful attention, while the socialites can band together and collaborate noisily.
Eventually, the company hopes to expand into books and TV shows, highlighting protagonists “who are quiet and quietly cool,” Cain says. She adds that that applies doubly for female characters, who have transitioned from taking no role in popular culture to the one-dimensional Strong Female Character, like Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.” Which is fine, Cain says, “but we now need a more diverse influence of heroines.”
In the meantime, ideas will flow — never before lunch — from the quiet house near the Hudson.
The world Quiet Revolution imagines is one where shy kids grow up without nagging voices, either real or imaginary, telling them to shed their quietness. And it’s a world where companies don’t just celebrate their introverted employees, but promote them so they can wield their quiet power effectively.
But make no mistake: It’s not an overthrow Cain is advocating.
“We want extroverts also,” she says, emphasising the need of one temperament balancing the other. “That way, everyone’s better off.”
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