Friday, April 18, 2014

How To Give An Introvert An Ego Trip

To the introvert misfits of the world, this is our Shades of Gray. You might find yourself staying up to read the intro, and then, suddenly, preparing breakfast the next morning, followed by an exclamation to the world (via your pseudonym blog) that this is the most thrilling historical non-fiction psychoanalysis that's ever been written.
 
Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking reads like a conspiracy theory and self-help book in one. She laments the compromises of an extrovert-laden society, the perils of extrovert leadership, and the dilution of education from knowledge to extrovert personality training.
 


Fellow introverts, prepare to be affirmed and empowered.
 
Cain pulls from the stories of famous and successful introverts as she reinforces this idea that group learning and collaboration don't lead to productivity or innovation. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and the man who designed and built the prototype for the first personal computer gives this advice in his memoir:
 
"I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee... Work alone. You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you're working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team."
 
Even to a hardcore introvert like myself, Wozniak's words sound extreme. I can't deny the synergy of a well-constructed committee. But I'll note that the most effective committees are led by introverts, gathering brilliant minds (not vocal heads), and then calling out and allowing synergy to occur.
 
Cain recognizes the value of shared brainpower in the creation of Linux, Wikipedia, and MoveOn.org, all online collaborations that form an empire of knowledge, vastly greater than the sum of their parts. Yet she admonishes the responses of educators rushing to group learning and businesses forcing open office plans, underscoring that these forced collaborations remove the common denominators of successful group work: asynchronous, anonymous sharing of ideas, among individuals with the ability to self-monitor and improve independently.
 
For anyone who's ever been stuck in an extrovert-controlled work environment, it's all you can do to stand back and watch the train wreck. I wonder how many Fortune 500 companies have come to financial ruin, with the lynchpin to their solvency outlined on a legal pad in some introvert's desk drawer.
 
Malaysia's botched search for Flight 370 reeks of ego-laden bureaucrats more focused on self-preservation than answers. There was secrecy, misinformation, international experts tiptoeing on hold to preserve diplomatic relations. It's easy to blame Thailand for waiting a week before mentioning their satellite footprint of the aircraft on the night of its disappearance, excusing their silence with the somewhat casual dismissal that "no one had asked."
 
But why had no one asked? Malaysian authorities were ceremoniously directing international search efforts, projecting a feigned air of competence, and holding so tightly to "confidential" information that who would think they didn't already have the satellite record?
 
And then, once this new information is made available, the flawed process is not re-examined or even acknowledged, we simply blame the introvert and move on.
 
"Why didn't you speak up?!!" the leader-extroverts demand, once again enjoying their martyred wax poetic on a sinking ship -- wringing hands, dramatic pacing -- over any real search for answers.
 
Cain even looks at how an emphasis on extrovert qualities has shaped spirituality in America, visiting a megachurch in California to quantify the experience: "Everything in the service involved communication. Greeting people, the lengthy sermon, the singing. There was no emphasis on quiet, liturgy, ritual, things that give you space for contemplations."
 
She recognizes there's a place for these communication-oriented spiritual exercises. Even so, in evangelical America, where extroversion is often seen as an indicator of virtue, faith is perceived as less genuine if not accompanied by a gregarious smile, proselytizing strangers, and a loud singing voice. As Cain concludes, "many evangelicals have come to associate godliness with sociability," which could cause introverts among them to question the authenticity of their own faith.
 
Research repeatedly indicates more is rarely better in terms of in-person group collaboration. The larger a group, the fewer and less creative its ideas. Moreover, repeated studies show an increase in performance when people work alone, especially when creativity or efficiency are of the essence.
 
Interestingly, the one exception to this research is online brainstorming, which values inherent introvert skillsets. In this case, the larger the group, the better it performs. (As an aside, it's never failed that when I do a Facebook call-out for advice, I get more diverse, experienced, informed responses than any amount of personal online research could procure.)
 
In a disconcerting analysis on the U.S. education system, Cain notes that it's primary goal has shifted from imparting knowledge to crowd control. And as a result, pod seating, group projects and presentations prevail, components more accessible to extroverts than introverts. This approach reinforces fallacies of groupthink, misperceptions that the person who speaks the best is the most intelligent, and individual learning is sacrificed under the guise of "preparation for the real world," where collaborative workforces are the way of the future.
 
But what if cutting-edge businesses are realizing group work isn't the way of the future? Many progressive companies are shifting from conference room brainstorming sessions to the more ubiquitous approach of online chat forums. They're doing away with open office plans, opting instead for versatile workspace that transitions from meeting rooms to enclosed cubicles, or rotating private offices accessible to anyone who needs a couple hours of uninterrupted work.

For me, the greatest takeaway in Quiet is Susan Cain's refusal to oversimplify this concept, forcing everyone into a camp of either introvert or extrovert. She creates a fluid spectrum along which people can adjust, intentionally or unintentionally, through a lifetime. She also dedicates an entire chapter to the valuable skill of "faking it," stories of observant introverts who have so learned the mannerisms of extroverts that they seamlessly interact with both worlds (and then hide in bathroom stalls in conference halls to recover).

About halfway through the book, Cain digresses into what reads as a series of research publications, citing examples of introversion and extroversion in animals, the roots of nature and nurture in child development, the role of ethnicity, politics, economics, and social activism. Perhaps it's all relevant to the issue; I just found it less interesting than her intense, somewhat combative pro-introvert rally through the first several chapters. 

Nonetheless, she recovers with a couple chapters on how our career and relationship ambitions can complement our temperaments, and offers great advice for raising kids with tendencies toward introversion (notably: don't force extrovert behaviors). Overall, she writes with new perspective on a concept personal to everyone, and I enjoyed many "A-ha!" moments for myself, my work, and my relationships.
 
If you have an introvert in your life, share this book with them! ($2.99 on Amazon Kindle)

Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Quick Takes: I'm hungry and pregnant. With twins.

1. Breakfast Comes Early

I've been waking up famished at 4 am. My body's acting like I didn't eat four slices of Nutella toast and chocolate milk before falling asleep on the couch at 10 pm.

2. When Bacon Burns Our House Down

The other morning I set off the smoke alarm trying to make bacon. Let me rephrase that - I set off every smoke alarm in the house, trying to make bacon. At 4 am. The silence button doesn't work on our ultra-safe alarms, and they're wired in, so there's no popping out the batteries. And they're ultra-sensitive, so if you turn on the oven, they'll go off. The only way to silence these smoke detectors is to completely remove them from the wall and run them outside to fresh air -- siren blaring the whole time. Sometimes we forget to put them back, and they end up on the back porch for days. 

3. Lasting Repercussions

So now when I turn on the stove for pre-dawn Breakfast Number One, the dog runs into the bedroom and wakes up Wally like we're all gonna die. When he wanders into the kitchen, I usually offer a distracted and unconvincing, "Oh, I'm so sorry you're awake too." But I'm secretly glad that he's not getting sleep either.

4. Safer Alternatives
 
I've been sticking to scrambled eggs and cheese since the bacon debacle... 

5. A Twin-Pregnancy Meal Plan

...followed by Frosted Flakes at 8 am, trail mix through the morning, Lunch #1 at 11 am, Lunch #2 at 2 pm, granola bars at 4:30 pm, another egg while making dinner, Dinner #1 at 6 pm, ice cream or popcorn through the evening, and Dinner #2 at 10 pm.

6. Inevitable

And I'm still hungry all the time.

7. So It Figures

Women pregnant with twins are twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes. ::sigh::

Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Have Another Kid

Now that I'll be hugely pregnant with twins (surprise!) with a preschooler at each hand, I need to practice what to tell all the people (mostly strangers) who ask about our family planning style:

1. The 2-year-old and 4-year-old are no longer a challenge.

2. We finally caught up on sleep.

3. Our gene pool is awesome.

4. There's nothing on TV.

5. Two kids per room is not enough.

6. The 4-year-old keeps trying to play "baby" with the cat. (Yes, he has a baby doll.)

7. We're training for a survival reality TV show.

8. We want to play zone defense. We're tired of man-on-man. 

9. We haven't gotten our money's worth out of the cloth diapers yet.

10. There just aren't enough Baders in Texas.

11. We're filthy rich. (The 10-year-old Buick and South Carrollton residence are red herrings.)

12. The dog and cat aren't getting enough attention.

13. We need some demolition work done around the house. 

14. We don't trust social security to still be around when we're 65 70 95 100. But hey, we'll do our part.
 
15. We want it to mean something when our kids say, "Hey, you pick on one Bader, you pick on all of us!"

16. We're tired of NFP charting and are ready for a 9-month break.

17. Our attic is full of baby stuff, and we want to move it all back into the house. 

18. We've heard all the readings at Mass and don't need to hear them again for 5 years.

19. We're still 7 short of a baseball team.

20. The kitchen table seats 4 (when expanded), but we think we can fit a few more.