Susan Cain’s 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

Susan Cain Quiet Revolution TED Talk 2014 600wide Susan Cains 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

Image credit: Social psychologist Amy Cuddy

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:

3028117 poster p open office Susan Cains 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

RELATED: Remaking Open Offices So Introverts Don’t Hate Them | Fast Company

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.

3P cadets and Susan Cain e1395524241180 Susan Cains 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

RELATED: Must All Leaders Be Gregarious? |

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.

hands raising e1395524521639 Susan Cains 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

RELATED: Help Shy Kids — Don’t Punish Them | The Atlantic

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:

unnamed 1 Susan Cains 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

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.

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60 Responses to “Susan Cain’s 2014 TED Talk | Announcing the Quiet Revolution”

  • Susann:

    How grateful I am that you wrote this book. Reading it, there was a point where I felt a distinct shift in my inner image of myself-a feeling of something long kinked that had finally been allowed to untwist. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has changed my inner life profoundly.

    You shine a needed light on introversion and introverts (weird how that’s a good thing in this case :)… especially by pointing out that it’s not a choice; we’re wired differently. I’ve known all my life (currently 58) that I wasn’t like most other people… heard all the same comments “you’re in your head too much; just relax and enjoy the party; etc.,” and have tried many times and to varying degrees to fit the extravert standard. Because of you, I can accept myself as I am. It is a huge relief. THANK YOU!!

  • Debra:

    Susan, Thank you for all that you do. I’m an introvert and have known it for a long time. One of my strengths that I discovered by accident a while ago is that of a really good leader. Not because I like to be the center of attention because I don’t. It’s because I don’t need to be the center of attention and use my quite strength to support and help others do what they do best. Again, thank you for all that you are doing in helping us to be recognized for who we are and what we contribute. I’m looking forward to being part of the Quite Revolution. Best wishes to you always!!

  • Scott Ruschak:

    Thank you for your religious references to the value of quiet, as many of us draw our strength from our spiritual heritage. For myself, the following verse from the Old Testament has been comforting:
    Be still and know that I am God. And thank you for affirming — on a public stage no less (!) - the value of the “man of contemplation” in a world filled with men and women of action.

  • Kylie:

    I cannot say thank you enough for your amazing book Susan. Can’t wait for the Quiet Revolution either. The talk reads wonderfully, can’t wait until TED put it up for us to watch :-)

  • Danielle:

    When I was in high school, one of my teachers, a nun, used to compare me mercilessly to my more outgoing and chatty sister and wanted me to be more like her while disparaging me in the process. One day, I came home from school and complained to my mom about it. She then took a stand and gave me permission to POLITELY tell the nun that I was not my sister, that I was me, and that I had every right to be me and to immediately stop comparing me to my sister, that I was her equal and to stop disparaging me. I followed my mother’s instructions… POLITELY… and to my humongous surprise, the nun’s disparaging negative comparisons stopped immediately. This took place over 40 years ago and I can still feel the relief it brought me to be allowed to be me, with my mother’s blessings no less. Thank you, Susan, for stepping up to the plate so others can feel the same relief that my mom brought me 40 years ago.

  • David Friedman:

    The Quiet Revolution concepts sound very appropriate to me. Note: I work in a busy ‘cubicled’ architectural office. Two things help me with inward thinking when there are too many external distractions in the workplace . . . One thing is using a good set of headphones and some ‘itunes’ music, in order to (occasionally) tune out the environmental noise. The other tactic is grabbing a pencil and paper and walking away from my desk. Usually I can find an empty room (or an empty desk) for sitting and reflecting on the task at hand, and maybe jotting down a few notes or sketches. Then after this 10 or 15 minute retreat, I walk back to my desk (usually with a better sense of purpose and direction). If anyone urgently needs me while I am ‘gone’ then they are able to contact me via cell phone.

  • John Connor:

    Susan, I just finished your book today — I saw myself on almost every page. And so well written! You have done important work here, that has blessed me and so many others. Like another commenter mentioned above, I felt a shift in my of self-acceptance that I think is life-changing. As a minister, and someone who felt called to ministry from a young age, I always admired (and felt less than) the natural extrovert ministers I knew. But I find there are those who are drawn to the quiet leader types, and appreciate the insights that are shared by such a person after their forays into the woods alone.

    bless you!

  • Sandra:

    Susan, you TED talk video is such a serendipity to me. It is such a huge releaf to me too. Ever since childhood I know I’m introvert, my dad always introduce me to his friends with a description that she is too introver, with a pityful tone of voice. He is extravert and successful himself, and I can feel how much he wanted an extravert daughater.

    For many many years this idea has been hurting and I’ve wasted many energies just to make myself more extravert and fit in. I lost my confidence little by little just because I can be like those extraverts. Only until I graduated from University and took the MBI personality test, that the career consultant told every participant that introvert is just a type of personality, it’s not necessariliy good or bad. And now after finishing watching your video, I felt so much better. Thank you so much.

  • Seemant:

    Hi Susan,

    Everything, well not everything, that I wanted to say is in my blog.

    Like many comments and stories that you have received and heard, I would like to say, Thank you. Thank you for the revelation. Let me know if I can be of any help.


  • John:

    Hi Susan,

    Thank you so much for your book and continuing work, it has helped me make sense of who I am.

    For awhile I was married to an extrovert who had extroverted children and friends. It was a huge strain in that environment, being constantly told that my view of the world was wrong, “… because only a very few people are like you and you can’t change the world, so you had better change (to fit into the world).”

    Now I have the wisdom from your book to help me make better choices for the future.

    Viva la Revolution.

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Quiet: The Book

- Wall Street Journal

Bill Gates names "The Power of Introverts" one of his all-time favorite TED Talks.

Best Nonfiction Book of 2012

QUIET has been voted the best nonfiction book of 2012


1. There’s a word for “people who are in their heads too much”: thinkers.

2. Our culture rightly admires risk-takers, but we need our “heed-takers” more than ever.

3. Solitude is a catalyst for innovation.

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