Quiet & Imagine

I recently read (and have mentioned here) Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And now I’m reading Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works. I find them to be a good double billing for those interested in these kinds of subjects. Having studied psychology (and particularly fan psychology, but I find people and the ways they act and think fascinating in general), I am interested in these sorts of studies—and anyway, I sometimes need a break from the fiction I typically read (and write).

What’s especially thought provoking is how Cain and Lehrer use the same kinds of situations and examples to their own purposes, which are not at all opposed—the two authors are looking at two different aspects of personality, but these aspects happen to intersect in a way that causes the authors to cite similar material. And so, reading the books back to back as I have done, these things stand out. Cain uses Steve Wozniak and the Homebrew Computer Club to showcase Woz as an introvert; Lehrer uses the same to point out how cross-pollination of ideas aids in creativity.

Even something as simple as color can be looked at from both angles: extroverts are more drawn to red, which seems to echo and fuel their high levels of energy, while introverts like blue, which they find calming and soothing. Cain points out that extroverts look for stimulation; introverts often feel overstimulated and so search for pockets of quiet. Meanwhile, Lehrer shows how red backgrounds in studies cause people to focus more in a convergent thinking kind of way, while blue backgrounds aided divergent forms of thinking and free association.

It’s no surprise that extroverts and introverts are both creative and in different ways, which is what I take away from reading these two books and mentally compiling the data provided. Lehrer discusses the general idea that many artists turn toward focus-enhancing drugs (Benzedrine, Adderall). If we consider that many such personalities are likely to be introverts, and that they are perhaps given to head-in-the-clouds modes of thought, then when they’ve finally come up with that great idea for a story or poem or song, it makes a little bit of sense that they would then need something to help them zero in and do the job. Meanwhile, an extrovert might turn to a little marijuana to help him loosen up and free-associate more, allowing him to come up with new ideas.

Lehrer points out that creativity is something that can require the right mix of insiders and outsiders; that is, people with a lot of experience in a field and people with only a surface understanding of it. And Cain discusses the careful balance of extroverts to introverts in interactions and how offices should utilize both sets of skills and talents and personality types. Somewhere in this mix, then, is surely a solid equation for the perfect storm of talent, creativity and ability: the right number of extroverts tempered by the right number of introverts, the right number of experts balanced by the right number of newcomers, and the key method for using them all to their fullest potential (time alone to think and come up with ideas + cross-pollination of those ideas + teamwork/experts + newcomers = ???). It’s a tall order—more math than I’m willing to do—but find someone who can and will do it, and you’d have the formula for the perfect workplace.

As a writer, I spend a lot of my time alone, chasing ideas around my own head. And then when I find one, I have to sit down and focus long enough to get it written, edited, &c. All the mechanical bits of my trade. (I’m a writer who doesn’t use Benzedrine or Adderall, just lots of soda and chocolate.) I have to balance this with networking and attending functions, which I usually enjoy but have a difficult time getting excited about because of my painful shyness; a room full of writers is often a room full of people looking sullen and standing around the outskirts, at least until one of them has had enough to drink. Lucky for me I work a bit in theatre, so all the drama types will do the work. And, as pointed out by Cain, even introverts can have meaningful conversations once they open up, but there is a long warm-up period, and as a rule we’re terrible at small talk. In the end, I almost always end up having a good time once I find one or two people to talk to. I only want and need those one or two, though. Then I’m satisfied. More than that and I get tapped out pretty quick.

But as Lehrer explains, these networking events are very important, not only for making those connections, but for stimulating creativity via the cross-pollination method.

To summarize, these two books work together to make one very interesting read. They more or less dovetail into one another and give one a lot to think about.

As if I didn’t have enough to think about already.

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