Sunday, March 04, 2012

A (Quiet) Room of One's own

In a 1929 essay, Virginia Woolf wrote that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” There has been much literary analysis (and some criticism) of this assertion, and, over time it seems her call has been taken up by proponents of nearly every minority facing systemic repression, but in the context of the time, Woolf was being quite literal and pragmatic. Women rarely had space to call their own in which to do their own work. Women belonged to the household, not to themselves.

While I feel a little bit guilty for cribbing Woolf’s famous line for the title of this post–partially because it’s overused, and partially because this is a somewhat lighter topic to which I am applying it–, as I read through Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, the phrase came leaping to mind and stayed there. There are a lot of angles to come at Quiet, but I think the practical, in terms of space, is a good place to start.

Cain’s book sets out to show us how and why ‘the extrovert’ has become the American ideal, and for our purposes, particularly in the workplace. She argues that introverts–nearly 1/3 of people– are misunderstood and devalued. In an interview on, Cain explains:

“Many people believe that introversion is about being antisocial, and that’s really a misperception. Because actually it’s just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers.

While able to make choices that suit them in their personal lives (no one has to go to a rock concert to hear their favorite music performed live thanks to the Internet), introverts are often forced to work in an environment that doesn’t suit their creative and productivity needs. This can mean that introverts are less likely to perform to the top of their potential. Also from the NPR Q&A:

It’s quite a problem in the workplace today, because we have a workplace that is increasingly set up for maximum group interaction. More and more of our offices are set up as open-plan offices where there are no walls and there’s very little privacy. … The average amount of space per employee actually shrunk from 500 square feet in the 1970s to 200 square feet today.
A review in 800ceoread. Here

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