Design

Offices designed for introverts? Susan Cain announces lots of news to make quiet folks happy

Susan Cain spoke about the power of introverts at TED2012. Hear her plans for making the world a little quieter for them. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Susan Cain spoke about the power of introverts at TED2012. Hear her plans for making the world a little quieter for them, starting with a line of Steelcase office furniture. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Susan Cain is planning a Quiet Revolution. In her classic talk from TED2012, she spoke up for introverts, pointing out the many ways our culture encourages extroversion. “I wasn’t prepared for the intensity and voracity of response to these ideas,” Cain tells the TED Blog two years later. “There’s an enormous hunger for recognition, understanding and advancement.”

In her talk during All-Stars session 5 at TED2014, Cain shared how she plans to empower introverts—for the benefit of us all—by creating quiet places at work, training quiet leaders, and empowering introverts in the classroom. The TED Blog caught up with Cain to learn more about the details of the movement that she didn’t have time to share in her short talk. Along with her extroverted business partner, Paul Scibetta, Cain is introducing a series of programs and tools to make the world a quieter and happier place for everyone. Read more below.

Quiet havens in the workplace 

Susan-Cain-furniture

Susan Cain has teamed up with Steelcase to create office spaces that foster the needs of introverts. One of the first images of their designs. Photo: Steelcase

“Open offices are a tremendous problem for introverts and extroverts alike. People can’t focus, they can’t concentrate,” says Cain. “There’s a need for more privacy in the office.”

To address this need, Cain has partnered with office design company Steelcase to create readily available quiet spaces in offices for introverts to find respite. This partnership was borne at TED two years ago. Right after she gave her talk, she met Jim Keane, the CEO of Steelcase, who’d wanted to address the erosion of privacy in office plans for years.

Together, Cain and Steelcase developed a series of designs for open offices, chock-full of options for introverts and extroverts alike. The idea is to create a series of shared spaces that employees can flow between. The first images of “Quiet Spaces” show an airy office with cozy nooks and crannies—some for alone time, some for two-person brainstorming, some for group collaboration. All the spaces use sound-dampening wall finishes to keep things quiet. Cain and her team will give a demo at the NeoCon design conference.
 

QuietTV

The Quiet Revolution has a website in the works that will serve as a global hub for all things quiet. The site will eventually host a web-based TV series with profiles and interviews of famous introverts, highlighting how introversion shaped the way they contribute to the world. The site will roll out as the movement gathers momentum, but if you want to learn more now, check out Cain’s author site, The Power of Introverts.

 

Quiet Leadership

This program, headed by West Point professor Mike Erwin, will center on identifying and strengthening the leadership style of introverts. Though Erwin is himself an extrovert – he talks a mile a minute, according to Cain — he observed during his time in combat that introverts make great leaders if they can identify their strengths. The training will consist of online and in-person workshops and resources, and will offer classes for both introverts and extroverted leaders who want to learn how to guide introverts to the height of their potential.

This program developed in part from Cain’s own experience preparing for her first TED Talk back in 2012. “As an introvert, I’m terrified of public speaking,” she said. “I overcame it by looking for role models of speakers who speak in a low-key introverted way. So when I saw speakers like Malcolm Gladwell, it made me aware that there was a tried and true way of being an introvert and being powerful.” The leadership training will offer examples of powerful quiet leadership, and will draw on the latest research on managerial styles.

 

Supporting quiet children

“This is the area that is closest of all to my heart,” said Cain. “I’ve seen first hand in the wake of my TED Talk that there’s such an enormous need for parents and teachers to better understand how to love and cultivate the introverted kid.”

Like the Quiet Leadership program, this program is in its infancy, but will eventually provide tools for teachers and parents to support quiet children as they grow into themselves. Cain is in the process of identifying partner schools across the country that will collaborate in developing the training program. Another combo of online and in-person training sessions.

Note: This post originally ran on March 25, 2014. It was updated on June 4, 2014.