Announcing the Quiet Revolution
Let’s do something fun and unusual for the TED stage. I want you to break into groups of four and have each of you tell a childhood story that reveals whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. Then I’ll ask each group to select the most personal, poignant and private of these stories to share with the audience. And from this collaborative group process, a larger truth will emerge. Just kidding! Really! Just kidding. We’re not going to do that! But how many of you were feeling like, How can I get out of here right now without insulting the speaker? That’s how so many introverts feel about the “team-building” exercises we’re forever obliged to participate in.
I got to spend seven years in splendid solitude writing a book called, “QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” When it published, I thought I’d give my TED talk, and then I could go home for seven years and write another book.
But the talk touched a nerve, and thousands of strangers started sharing their own stories of accepting their introversion for the first time. Those stories changed my life course. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. First, some of the stories:
There was a high school junior in Kansas who’d twisted herself into a pretzel trying to be a leader, but was kicked off her school’s prestigious leadership squad because she wasn’t outgoing enough. She was devastated, but told me that the TED talk reminded her what she would’ve preferred to do in the first place, which was science. HER version of leadership? Publishing her first scientific paper at 17. Winning a huge university scholarship. Today she’s a happy freshman majoring in biomedical engineering.
Next, there was an Ivy League president, a Fortune 500 CEO and a Marine Corps general who all confessed that introversion was their secret – and their secret strength. There was a quiet teacher who convinced her entire school to rethink its emphasis on class participation and group projects. There was even a lonely young guy who decided not to commit suicide because he finally realized there was a place for him in this world; today, believe it or not, he’s happy, productive, and in a loving marriage.
Turns out, embracing their quiet nature does not cause introverts to flee to a shack in the woods. It empowers them to engage with the world – but on their own terms.
Ironically, these stories had the same effect on me. I found myself every morning with my laptop, thinking of those souls, and writing not the sentences of my next book, but the blueprint for a Quiet Revolution – and joining forces with a growing army of Quiet Revolutionaries, many of whom are extroverts with quiet colleagues, spouses or children of their own. Together we’ve formed a venture backed, mission-based company whose goal is to empower introverts for the benefit of us all. A third to a half of humanity is introverted – that’s one out of every two or three people you know — so we’re dreaming big.
So here’s a quick look at three of the many projects on our drawing board:
First, transforming office architecture. Solitude is a crucial ingredient of innovation and even leadership, and we want to bring it back to the workplace. Two years ago at TED, just after my talk, I met with a lovely guy and self-described introvert named Jim Hackett. Jim at the time was CEO of Steelcase, the company who helped design the beautiful TED main stage, and for years, he told me, he’d been concerned about the erosion of focus and privacy in modern offices. I’d been speaking out pretty vocally about the same problem. So fast forward two years, we’ve formed a partnership with Steelcase to create quiet oases of focus and respite for open plan offices, so that workers can move freely between social and private spaces.
Second, helping companies train the next generation of quiet leaders. Many of the world’s great leaders are introverts – we have some of them in this audience, from Bill Gates to General McChrystal. We’re creating a Quiet Leadership Institute to train introverts to lead, communicate, and connect, by drawing on their natural strengths instead of asking them to turn into extroverts. For the last two years, thanks to TED I’ve had an unlikely career as a public speaker, and I’ve been giving talks to every conceivable type of organization. And you know who I’ve found gets the power of quiet leaders better than anyone? The military — where leadership is a matter of life and death, and everyone knows that many great leaders are introverts. So I’m excited and honored to announce that the Quiet Leadership Institute will be led by an exceptional guy named Mike Erwin – a decorated veteran, two time Bronze Star winner, West Point professor of leadership and positive psychology, and a fierce Quiet Revolutionary.
Third, empowering quiet children. The most poignant letters I get, the ones that haunt me, come from children who are hurting because the well-meaning adults in their lives ask them why can’t you be a little more like your outgoing sister, and they know they can’t be, never will be. And the letters come from moms and dads who are hurting because they hear repeatedly at parent teacher conferences that their child is pretty great, but would be so much better, if only he were that precious thing: talkative in class. Hundreds of schools, thousands of parents, have reached out to us, clamoring for change. So in the next year we’ll be forming partnerships with schools to develop tools for parents and educators to cultivate their quiet children. Stay tuned on that.
One final story: There once was a boy so quiet and shy, he used to run home from school when the bell rang, to avoid socializing with his classmates. Like many shy people, this boy sided instinctively with the oppressed. As he grew older, he learned to speak out on their behalf — but remained a shy and quiet man, believing that these traits were his source of spiritual strength. The boy’s name was Mohandas Gandhi, and he later uttered, for me, the most important sentence in history:
So, whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, I invite you to join our Quiet Revolution – and to consider that empowering the introverted half of the population will benefit us all. But most of all, I invite you to go out and shake the world gently.