The Public Introvert
“[These introverts] are there at the spotlight not because they like being looked at or tell others what to do, but because they do what they think is right.” – Susan Cain
According to Cain, over the past century the United States has moved from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality“, as social admiration has shifted from ideals of private honor to public perception. This has led to the inevitable rise of the “extrovert ideal”: the pervasive belief that the ideal self is gregarious and comfortable in the spotlight. For example Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, and Winston Churchill, to name a few. TED cleverly connect with this and spread ideas that matter through their talks.
One-third to half of Americans are introverts.  That’s one out of every two or three people you know, if you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely married to, raising, managing, or in a relationship with one.
We admire one type of individual – the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” There are exceptions however, we let technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please. Our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so. (J.K.Rowling, Barrack Obama, Steve Wozniak, and others). We also tolerate any introvert who has successfully trained himself to be an oxymoronic creature, what Susan Cain calls “the Public Introvert.”
The best example of the Public Introvert is perhaps Cain herself. Despite being an introvert, she gathered her courage and stepped out in front of an auditorium full of people to criticize America’s reverence of the “extrovert ideal”. In her 5,355,758 views TED talk, Cain also argues that introverts should be encouraged and celebrated for their extraordinary talents and abilities. Provide them with opportunities to work in solitude and with autonomy, and they will be more creative and productive.
We also see qualities of the Public Introvert in Apple founder Steve Jobs. Although he was a charismatic public speaker on stage, for example his Stanford commencement speech (7,859,476 views to date), off stage he was known to be extremely rude and awkward. This is something that is made known worldwide through the biopic Jobs released this summer. This attitude could be attributed to him needing to recharge from the constant interaction with other people, in Cain’s books that makes him an introvert. Not convinced? Click on the image below. Jobs was also given the freedom to develop his projects as he sees fit when Apple first started, and he became the genius from Apple.
After overcoming their public speaking fears (through sheer will and hardwork I suspect), Cain and Jobs took a stand and masterfully delivered rhetorics from the heart. They encourage people to “be yourself” in both speeches. To borrow Apple’s tagline, “think different” was certainly the underlying message in both speeches.
Both videos went viral as the stories told connect with us on a primal level, it is human nature to want to be accepted. The videos are also related to America’s reverence of extroverts. Ironically, that’s what both (Cain and Jobs) introverts did. Using Harvard’s Marshall Ganz framework of The Story of Me, The Story of Us, and The Story of Now, and Deanna Zandt’s theory of authenticity, let’s examine both speeches.
Jobs starts his speech by addressing the elephant in the room, the fact that he’s giving a commencement speech at one of the top universities in a country, but never actually graduated college. That alone, won several audiences (including me) over, as it reminds us of the inspiring stories of ‘underdog obtaining success by following his heart’. He then detailed all his rough days – “returning coke bottles for the 5 cent deposits to buy food with.” We would love to work that hard and be successful, while not having to worry about the rent; it’s a classic American aspiration. Lastly, he speaks of his near death experience and how he was advised to “get his affairs into order.” Jobs lend credence to his outlook and views on life. As one who was cruelly reminded of his mortality, he can attest to how he wished he had lived. The speech touched on many stories of me, us and now, and also authenticity. By sharing his tribulations (through anecdotes), he was being authentic, an introvert baring his soul to the world; something that’s difficult even for an extrovert. He also discusses stories that we care about: mortality, success and following our hearts, in lieu of being practical because of social or economic pressure. It is inspirational.
Cain brings up why we care about how people think, work, and get along, or wonder why the guy in the next cubicle acts that way, issues that no matter our ethnicity or race, we care deeply; it’s human nature to long to be accepted. She then connect statistics with the audience to illustrate its importance. She also uses historical figures to support her arguments and theorizes that even though they didn’t like being in the spotlight, they did it because it’s the right thing to do. Alluding to the fact that she, an introvert, is standing on stage addressing an auditorium full of people doing what’s right; she was being authentic. She also brings stories that we care about: why we care of what people think of us, how to understand people and following our hearts.
The messages of following our hearts, achieving success, mortality and why do we care, are inspirational. Hopefully these speeches will be able to change the current idolatry of “extrovert ideal.” Though we like to view ourselves as democratic and tolerant, the tendency to value extroverts is very limiting, as it encourages an “either/or” mindset.
PS: Are you a public introvert or an extrovert? Click here to find out.