In Susan Cain’s book Quiet, she so eloquently describes the experience of the introvert in a society overtly focused on values of extroversion. She tells the story of Stephen Wozniak’s role in the development of the personal computer. It was in the solitude of his time alone that his genius was able to play out. Ideas were shared and perhaps seeded in the collaborative spirit of group interactions, but the real work happened away from the crowds, at a time he could find the peace of time alone. “I don’t believe anything revolutionary has ever been invented by committee” (Wozniak, cited in Cain, 2012, p. 73). I work this way. I have learned to be sociable and participate in group dialog – I have even stated I like meetings – but if I have real work to do, I wait until I find my way to a quiet space, unencumbered by the distractions of expectations of others. Cain describes solitude as a “catalyst to innovation” (p. 74). It is in these quiet spaces that I find my creativity and drive.
Earlier in my career I taught in a rural Minnesota school district. During that time, I was given the opportunity to serve on an educational effectiveness leadership team. Our team of six attended a statewide meeting facilitated by the state department of education. The keynote speaker one evening was Seymour Papert, an MIT professor credited with the development of the Logo computer language. He spoke of learning and the power of technology to transform how we might open the door for students and teachers to explore new depths of understanding. I was spellbound. I took notes – and looked at them when I got home. The next week I applied for admission to a master’s degree program in learning technology. I considered this talk a transformational point in my professional career.
Papert’s bushy, grey, hair flew in all directions. His brown, cardigan sweater was buttoned askew. The cadence of his talk was irregular. While my attention was transfixed by this remarkable man, I looked over to see my team members get up and leave. Catching up with them later, they explained they found his talk dry, disorganized, and boring. How could my experience be so different than the other five members of my team? Was I so different? The earliest computer enthusiasts were comprised of a significant majority of introverts. The kind of technology Papert described was one that enables creative ideas and thought to emerge from the inner workings of our selves and take form and shape. It is an act empowering the individual. Perhaps it was my introverted nature that was so powerfully drawn to this message shared by Papert.
I continue to find great solace in time alone. My sabbatical has allowed extended periods of solitude. These are rich moments providing me the space for ideas to come forward. It is these moments of quiet I find clarity in putting words to print.
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown Publishers.