Lessons from "Quiet": Why Multitasking Sucks & How Collaboration Kills Creativity

Article length: 1,000 words

Reading time: 3-5 minutes

I read Quiet a few years back and honestly have no clue how I found the book. Susan Cain flipped my mind upside down with the research, stories and application in this book. If you classify yourself as a natural introvert this book will give you insight on ways to make that work for you. How your disabilities can actually help you in some aspects. The book is bombed with examples of great leaders from all fields who considered themselves introverted. Also large touches on ways to structure your days and settings to be the most productive you. 

 The book isn't only about accepting yourself. As most introverts feel that they want to be more social at sometimes, Cain walks you through how to do so without the classic feeling of anxiety. Here are a few lessons I learned from Quiet.   

The Myth of Charismatic Leadership  

We all assume that "leaders" need to be this eccentric, loud, confident individual. This is what's portrayed in the media and what children grow up thinking is ideal, but the truth is that many great leaders are quiet. 

Jim Collins discusses "Level 5 Leaders" as "exceptional CEO's were known not for their flash or charisma but for extreme humility coupled with intense professional will."

By their natural ability to listen, as oppose to speaking, introverts can actually make better leaders. The lesson, says Collins is clear.

"We don't need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run."

When Collaboration Kills Creativity

It's currently trendy that open space and lack of barriers will improve work and education flow, but research out of UC-Berkeley showed that open environments are not ideal for all.

"More creative people tended to be socially poised introverts."

"Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. 

Avoidance of groupthink could be the culprit. When we gather in large groups the loudest idea usually resonates. You'd think by gathering a dozen people together you'd get better and more creative ideas, but the opposite is true. For many people, creativity shines when they're alone. As a leader, you'd be better off leaving those 12 individuals alone for awhile and then bringing them together to discuss their ideas equally. Not the typical - ready, set, go - type of meeting. 

One of the best books I read in 2013, was The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. In it, Coyle discusses the difference between simply doing an activity vs. deliberate practice. In the now popular skilled violinist study, (which limitations I discuss in the review of The Sports Gene.) The 10,000 hour "rule" was born, yet how those hours are spent is just as important as the quantity. 

When comparing the best vs. the worst group of violinists, the best practiced in solitude for an average of 3.5 hours per day, while the worst group averaged 1.3 hours per day. 

Psychologist Anders Ericsson explains "In many fields it's only when you're alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful - they're counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. 

If you follow my newsletter, deliberate practice sounds eerily familiar to flow. 

"We find flow by doing activities that challenge our current abilities, but not too far away to be intimidated. Notice when the challenge is too high it causes anxiety, too low causing boredom"

Need more?

Stephen Wozniak, better known as Woz, co-founder of Apple. 

"He hated small talk, and his interests were out of step with those of his peers."

"But the awkwardness of those years didn't deter him from pursuing this dream; it probably nurtured it."

He would never have learned so much about computers, Woz says now, if he hadn't been too shy to leave the house. 

Charles Darwin made friends easily but preferred to spend his time taking long, solitary nature walks.

Script from letter to a dinner party invitation "My dear Mr. Babbage, I am very much obliged to you for sending me cards for your parties, but I am afraid of accepting them, for I should meet some people there, to whom I have sworn by all the saints in Heaven, I never go out."

Multitasking Sucks

"Indeed, excessive stimulation seems to impede learning: a recent study found that people learn better after a quiet stroll through the woods than after a noisy walk down a city street."  

"Another study, of 38,000 knowledge workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity. Even multitasking, that prize feat of modern-day office warriors, turns out to be a myth. Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time. What looks like multitasking is really switching back and forth between multiple tasks, which reduces productivity and increases mistakes by up to 50 percent."

Putting these last two pieces together as an annedote. I always found it comical in undergrad when people who brag about "studying all night", being at the library for 8 hours or something. Then I would find out majority of that time was spent around friends, texting, Facebooking, SnapChatting, eating and then oh yeah, studying I guess too. Test day would roll around and they'd be shocked with the sub-par results. They believed that simply putting in the hours was enough - but the lack of deliberate practice and act of multitasking resulted in much of their time wasted. 

As more personal evidence, nearly all of my creative breakthroughs have came through solitude. The entire idea of MyoBrain was inspired while living by myself, in a deserted college town during the summer in 2012. The concept of writing my first book, again, mostly alone for three months in the summer of 2013. Isolation can't take all the credit, the summer is a hell of a motivator. 

More recently, I've even learned to have separate windows (not just tabs) while online. If my goal is to work on school, yet I have my MyoBrain email open in a tab I can see, then it's too easy for me to bounce back and forth. By switching windows I can concentrate solely on one task. When I'm finished or at a stopping point I switch windows with the ease of four fingers left or right (thanks Apple) and see only MyoBrain things. 

Wrapping up

This piece isn't a big F-U to all the extroverts out there. Instead it hopefully opens your mind to the idea that there are multiple ways to lead and learn. Too many introverts naturally feel inferior - I encourage you to not fight it, but learn to use introversion to your advantage.  

The lessons about deliberate practice and multi tasking can be applied to everyone. You don't get better by going through the motions. Clear concentration is where improvement is found. 


The Nature and Nurture of Creative Talent (UC-Berkley studies)

Meta Analysis of Personality in Scientific and Artistic Creativity

Autonomy and Independence - Encyclopedia of Creativity

Brain Rules by John Medina (Multitasking)

The Physical Environment of the Office (Study with 38,000 participants)

Traditional vs. Open Office Design: A Longitudinal Field Study

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi