Welcome to the Knowledge Project, I'm your host, Shane Hirsch, the curator behind the Farnam Street blog, which is an online community focused on mastering the best of what other people have already figured out. The knowledge project is a place where we look at interesting people and uncover the frameworks they use to make better decisions, live life and make an impact. On this episode, I have the remarkable Susan Kane.
You're going to love this. Well, we had never spoken before this call.
Susan's work has influenced how I live, designed my space and interact with others. As you'll discover, she's simply phenomenal. We talk about living a meaningful life, the relationship between introverts and extroverts, jealousy, how office environments affect people, how you can create some personal space and so much more. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. Before I get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor. This episode is brought to you by Intel.
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How do you choose to invest your time now?
Oh, that's such a funny question or just a good question, because, you know, I find that if I'm not paying attention to not only the day we'll run away with me, but my whole lifetime.
So I try to do things in blocks of time. And my best days are the ones where I spend them reading, writing, researching and playing tennis. And I try to smush everything in when my kids are at school, which makes it kind of tough because there's so many different things that I want to be doing each day. But it's actually not all that many hours from like eight thirty two to three thirty. Ends up being most of my work workday.
What are you reading these days? I am reading right now a book by Robert Sapolsky. I don't know if you know him, that he's a neurobiologist and primatologist. So he he studies the brain, but then he goes every summer, I think it is to Africa to study baboons and he kind of puts it all together and talks about human nature and the neurobiology of human nature.
And I just love him because he's not only super smart, but he's very, very humane.
So he's always approaching all these questions from a kind of open the vulnerable and searching place, and it makes for great reading. So he has a new book out called Behav. That's all about what makes a human. It's kind of about the good and evil in human nature and what underlies it all.
What's generally your process for reading a book? Like do you pick it up and read it cover to cover or do you have any. Oh, yeah.
I mean, if you're reading it for me, reading is too precious a thing to even apply the word process to it. So I don't even really think about it that way. I just read whatever I want to read at that moment and if I love it, then I'll go cover to cover. And if I don't like it or I'd rather read something else, then I'll switch. I don't really have a system, but I do notice that. Yeah, yeah.
I'll just put it down and switch to something else. But I definitely notice that when I'm traveling on vacation I'm much more apt to really get into a novel, whereas when I'm at home it's much more nonfiction. I think I just don't have the same kind of brain space in my daily life to kind of get into a fictional world in a sustained way. It's kind of a shame, but I noticed that to be true.
How do you go about filtering what you've read? Like there's so many books, there's 10 million seemingly like ten million books come out a year. And what's your process for kind of deciding which ones you place time with?
Yeah, I mean, I really don't have the process. I just kind of go for whatever strikes my fancy at that moment. So my husband always kind of teases me about the stack of books on the nightstand because it's like it's very, very varied.
And I just read through whatever I feel like at that moment. So I don't know. I guess the just before I was picking up Robert Sapolsky book, I made my way through Elena for Rantes for novels, the Neapolitan Quartet. I don't know if you follow Elena Ferrante at all. She's this amazing Italian writer and her novels are just kind of incredible.
So as I said, I only do that when when we're traveling. And we were just away on vacation in Portugal and Italy.
So I, I read all those books while I was there. Sounds awesome. To use them as inspiration for your own writing.
I use everything. All signs of creativity around me for me are inspirations for my own writing. So, you know, it's books, but it's also music or movies or anything like I feel I don't know where this motivation comes from, but I, I feel really driven to just express what it's like to be alive and to just tell the truth about it, because I don't think people tell the truth about it most of the time. And I really worry about this with social media that I feel like especially younger kids being raised on social media.
I don't even know what it's like to tell the full truth because everything is so curated and even diaries nowadays are kind of kept online for all to see. I really want to figure out, like, what's difficult about being alive. I don't know. I think that's actually what makes us feel love. Understanding how difficult it can be sometimes and that everybody's everyone's facing the same thing. So that's a roundabout answer to your question, because any time I hear any kind of music that expresses that or go to a play, that's really great, all of that, I'll come out of it feeling doubly inspired to make my own contribution.
How old are your kids? They are seven and nine.
How do you talk to them about this? Like the social media and being themselves and having imperfections, if you will, or.
Yeah. Well, you know, the social media stuff hasn't really happened for them yet. I mean, we definitely struggle with not having them on their iPads too much, but it's more about games. It's not really about. And also I have eight boys, so I feel like the kinds of social pressures that come up in social media and stuff like that, I imagine that happens later in their lives. But it's not really happening yet.
But in terms of just like the imperfections of each person, the imperfections of life in general, I have actually found that when they get upset about something that happened or feel like, yeah, I just feel like something made them sad or mad or whatever, I find that when I tell them, well, that's kind of how life is.
You know, you're going to have good days and bad days. You're going to have joy and you're also going to have times that you feel upset.
And I find that that is the quickest thing to make them feel better, because I think a lot of a lot of times when we get upset about something, we don't even realize it. But it's coming from a feeling that it's not supposed to be this way, like something went horribly wrong. And so in addition to the thing itself, you're kind of feeling like it should be different. It should be better. And I think understanding that everything is just inherently mixed.
There's there's beauty and there's ugliness and there's vulnerability and there's strength and it's all kind of smooshed up together in our lives. So not being surprised by each piece of it is incredibly liberating.
Do you think that helps them build resilience? Yeah, I really do. I really do it. I just think it helps you take things in stride. And like I tell them, you're having one of those moments now. It doesn't feel good and take some deep breaths and know that the moment is going to pass. It's natural that it's happening and it's going to pass.
You wrote one of the most cultish, successful books and probably the last 20 years. You want to tell us a little bit about the book so that we can start from the simplest? Oh, yeah, sure.
So I wrote this book. It's called Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. And I guess the title says a lot, but it's about the the powers that introverts have, despite the fact that we live in a world that would tell you that the only path to happiness, success, contributions and so on is to be extrovert. I mean, I believe we live in a world that's kind of biased towards extroversion. And I but I was kind of looking around me before I wrote this book.
I was looking around me and seeing people in my family, people in my workplace and so on who were distinctly introverted and were to me obviously contributing and wonderful people because of their introversion and not in spite of it. And and and I had been interested from pretty early in my adulthood in feminism. And so and so I spent a lot of time thinking about gender identity. But I used to be a Wall Street lawyer before I became a writer. And I would sit around in these negotiations at my law firm or just meetings and and people would be talking so much about questions of of gender, especially in terms of how people in terms of how the people around them were behaving.
And it struck me that that was really important. But was leaving a whole piece, missing a whole explanatory piece of what was happening, and that so much could be explained by personality in general and in particular by how inhered, directed or outer directed a person tends to be. And no one was talking about it. And there was no language for speaking about that aspect of our identities. Even though I realized, like once I started delving into personality psychologist, I realized that most personality psychologists believe that introversion and extroversion are one of the most, if not the most fundamental aspects of human nature and.
And that's true across all cultures, that this tendency to be introverted or extroverted explains so much about who we are. And as I said at the beginning, I have this impulse to tell the truth about what it's like to be alive. And this is something I had been thinking about and feeling for a long time. Since the time I was a kid. I been thinking about being kind of a quieter person in a world that would expect you to be more outgoing.
And it was something that caused me quite a bit of discomfort and at times pain. And it felt embarrassing to write about it at the beginning. But because I have this this impulse, I guess I, I went ahead and did it anyway.
This has been around for a long time. I mean, it seems like I think you even wrote about this in your book that since the dawn of time, people have basically been talking about introversion and extroversion. What do you think it's getting? What do you think now is the right time to draw so much attention to it? What's changed about the world that this has become something that people gravitate towards? Well, you know what?
It's funny. People ask me that a lot. And I actually believe that I could have written this book any time during the last hundred years and it would have had the same reaction.
And I say that because I think the big change happened about a hundred years ago or a little bit more at this point, which is when when we moved from being what historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality.
So what happened is we used to be living in small towns alongside people we had known all our lives. And then suddenly there's this great confluence of urbanization and industrialization and the rise of corporate culture. And people started moving into the cities and living with people they had never met before and suddenly needing to make a good impression at a job interview and to be a salesperson on behalf of their companies. And so, you know, when they were still in the small towns, people really knew each other and they judged each other based on where they could people where they contributing to the community.
So questions of how outgoing you were just didn't matter that much. But suddenly, when you have to make a good impression in front of people, you don't know these questions of how magnetic you are and how charismatic you are and how winning, how likable, how charming, all these things started mattering a lot. So there's this one really fascinating study that was done by this guy, Warren Sussman. And he he looked at the self-help books from the 19th century and compared them to the self-help books from the 20th century.
And he found that literally the words that the authors use were completely different. So in the 19th century, the words in the self-help books are all about character and virtue and integrity. And in the 20th century, the words were magnetism and charisma and likability. And I think that's still the world we've inherited today.
Do you. I'm curious, do you live in the city or do you live in the quieter area?
Oh, well, it's funny you say that because I live in a quieter area, but not out of choice. I actually prefer the city. I lived in Manhattan for 17 years before moving out to. I live in the Hudson River Valley now in New York, and I loved Manhattan. And I think for a creative person and for an introverted person, I think Manhattan is nirvana because you have all this anonymity. So you're surrounded by all these creative people and you're picking up on everything that's going on around you.
You just pick it up unconsciously, but you also have the kind of freedom and anonymity to just flow your way around the city, whereas in a small town, you're kind of missing both of those elements.
So I've grown to really love the quiet and to appreciate it. But it's not what you think I would. We moved out here because we were having kids and and wanted more space and kind of the usual stuff. And I have grown to love it. But any time I go back to the city, I feel my pulse quickening and a really good way. I'm curious about the I think it's a spectrum, right, of introversion, extroversion, and we all fall somewhere on that.
How does that change? Does it change with where we are in life? Does it change with environment? What impacts then?
Oh, yeah, both. I mean, so, you know, even in the course of a single day, you know, I think most people find that in the company of one person, they're more introverted, in the company of another, they're more extroverted. And sometimes it just depends on what activities they're doing. So there's a lot of fluctuation. And then over the course of a lifetime, you know, one thing that happens that I think confuses people and people will say to me is that I now go around and give speeches all the time and do media, things like that, and they'll say, oh, so ironically, become more of an extrovert.
And I always say, no, I mean, totally not. It's more that I've over time gained the skills to be able to do these things. And I want to do them because I really care about what I'm saying. So I'm doing something that's vaguely uncomfortable in the service of something I care about. But but my underlying nature has not changed at all. And so I think we often confuse skills with with our true nature. And the real question to me is, how would you choose to spend your time if you truly had no social or professional obligations?
What would you be doing? And how many people would you choose to spend it with? Often feel like I'm an undercover introvert masquerading as an extrovert. Oh, yeah, you and half the population. I hear that all the time.
What advice would you would you give people like that who feel like they're trying to adopt and live in a world that may not be as compliant with them as they would like or rewarding things that they might not value?
Yeah, well, I find very liberating the work of Brian Little. He's a personality psychologist who I got to know when I was doing my research. And he's become a really good friend to you. He's such a good guy. He he basically gave me to like my own personal PhD in personality psychology when I was researching this book. It is cool. He's such a nice guy. He took me under his wing and just taught me everything. And I mentioned him for this question because Brian is a total introvert and he's also a brilliant, brilliant psychologist and public speaker.
He loves his students. He loves just teaching people what he knows. And so he's kind of all the time masquerading in a way because he's always giving these speeches and receiving standing ovations. And if you saw him on stage, you would think he was this gigantic extrovert. He's he's totally passing. Um, but he says that the minute he comes off stage, he runs for the nearest restroom because he's utterly depleted and doesn't want to do the small talk.
And out of this experience of his life, he he created this whole branch of personality psychology. That is all about your question. It's called free trade theory. And the idea is that all of us have core personal projects by which he means, like, you know, the people we really love or the work we really care about doing.
And he says in the service of these core personal projects, we we can and we should act out of character, but basically step outside our comfort zones. But the key is that you do you're stepping out of character strategically. So when you're done achieving whatever goal it is, you come back into character and you put yourself in what he calls a restorative niche where you get to be yourself. So for you, let's say if you were doing a day full of podcast interviews, I believe it would be important for you to also schedule downtime where you don't have to be on at all.
You go take a long walk or whatever it is, and and you honor that obligation to the commitment to yourself just as strictly as you would, the fact that you and I said to each other that we would meet at 9:00 and we were both ready at 9:00. Right. And you should be doing the same thing with the solitary walk that maybe you're going to take later today. And and when you do it that way, the the parts of the day where you're stepping out of character, they feel good because it feels like you're in control of them and you're doing it from a positive place as opposed to from a place of feeling like, you know, there's something wrong with the way I am.
So I have to pretend to be somebody else. That's a completely different mindset. How do you create space in your relationship? I think in your TED talk you mentioned. You're married to an extrovert and you have kids and you have. How do you do that? Yeah, well, I will say I have a huge advantage in that my work affords me so much solitude because that's the nature of writing. That's obviously not true on the days that I'm speaking and doing media and stuff like that.
But I do have a lot of work time where I'm sitting in a cafe with my laptop. So that's a huge, huge help compared to many people I speak to who have jobs where they really have to be on all day. And then they face the thing of like, OK, I was just on all day at work and then I came home and my wife wants time and my children one time and there's no time for them. You were doing so and you were on Wall Street, though, right?
Yeah, but I didn't have kids back then. And I know that, you know, even on Wall Street, I don't know. I worked at a law firm where we all had our own offices and the work I was doing was pretty cerebral. So even though there were a lot of days where I'd be in terms of meetings and conference calls, there was also quite a bit of time kind of sitting alone in my office thinking through one hundred page documents.
So that helped. But I don't know. I guess I would say, like even on the days when it's sort of an all hands family day, you know, I'll say to my husband, I'd like to go take a walk now, and he gets it. And so it's just not a big deal, I would say. I also find that for me and I think for a lot of introverts, the time that I spend with other people who I know really well, like family, is very relaxing compared to time spent with people I don't know well, because there's not that feeling of like you have to be on.
You're just being you. So it's it's way more relaxing.
Was this like a conscious conversation you had with your husband where you're like, I need space and this is just how I work? Or was this just something that organically was kind of learned between you guys?
Well, I think it helped that I started writing this book pretty early into our relationship. So he really understood all this stuff in a visceral way because he was kind of with me as I was researching it and thinking about it. So we do sometimes have to have those kinds of conversations, but not as much as we would have to if if not for that.
But even even then, like, it sometimes comes up between us in funny ways that neither of us are even at first aware of. Like we often have a thing when we're driving where he'll turn up the volume dial on the music really loud and I'll turn it down and then he'll turn it up and I'll turn it down. And we're like a couple in a sitcom. And it took us a while to realize that that was an introversion extroversion thing.
And somehow, once you frame it as that, it's actually a lot easier to work it out, I think, because it gives it it gives legitimacy to the other person's point of view instead of feeling like, you know, why do they have this inexplicable desire that's so different from my own? You kind of know where they're coming from.
How do you resolve that? Um, I guess we just kind of work it out.
The the volume is usually kind of in the middle, except if there's a song that he really likes, then it goes up or sometimes I really like it and I want it up to I don't know, we just figure it out, take turns.
You mentioned office environments earlier. When you're on Wall Street and you had an office and you're reading these documents and you can kind of close the door and create some personal space, it seems increasingly the world is moving towards, for whatever reason, open offices maybe. Can you tell me how does an office physical office environment affect people? Oh, my gosh, it is so huge. I can't even tell you how I felt when I was interviewing for my law firm Jobs.
So this was all the way back in nineteen ninety four. I guess I had like ten interviews at different law firms and I still remember this. I went around with a legal pad taking notes on the different interviews and the first thing that I wrote down in my notes was what kind of office space we would we as the young associate lawyers would get. And then some lawyers. You got your own sorry, and some law firms, you got your own office.
And in others you had to share an office. And I really wanted to work only at the ones where you got your own office.
And it was still really nice. You had all all the other lawyers like the way these law firms are set up. It would be like a hallway and everybody had their own office. And I feel like a college dorm in a way, like all your friends were right down the hall and you could go visit each other, but you still had your own private space. So, you know, I really enjoyed that. And then when I started researching Quiet, I didn't even know about open office spaces.
That point, I didn't know they existed. This was back in two thousand six, but I decided that Silicon Valley was likely to be a nirvana for introverts. So I flew to Silicon Valley and I just plopped myself down there and started visiting people in their workplaces. And that's when I first saw the phenomenon of open plan offices. And back then, it was not considered professionally acceptable to complain about your open plan office. You would be seen as not a team player if you said you didn't like it.
So what happened is people were coming up to me and they were kind of whispering about how much they hated it.
And they were saying to me, can you do you know of any research that I could give to my boss that would explain why this is so unproductive for me? And I have no idea. But I started looking into it and I realized that there is actually a mountain of research that already existed to that mountain now that more mountains have grown up, all of it pointing to the problems of these office spaces, that they make people less productive because you're you're so much more likely to be interrupted with each interruption.
And it takes you twice as long to complete your task. And people just psychologically feel kind of invaded because when you feel like you can be observed and overheard all day long, that's a huge emotional and cognitive load that literally makes you not thinking as clearly.
So there's all these problems. So ever since then, I've been a kind of a champion of pulling back from these kinds of open spaces. And I do think that there is now a popular backlash against them. And architects and and office planners are starting to be aware of that. But, of course, there's a huge economic incentive to design offices this way. So I'm not quite sure what will happen. Do you think it is the economics that drove this in the first place, or was it a world where in theory, I mean, hypothesizing here that extroverts are in charge and they prefer those?
And then, um, I think a little bit of both. And the third thing, I do think the economics at the end of the day are a huge driver because you just save an enormous amount because they're so in an open space. There's the square footage per employee is so much less than if you're giving people their own office space. But I think what happened is that that also coincided with this cultural era that I believe we're in, that I call the new groupthink where there's there really is this belief out there that creativity comes from a gregarious mode where everybody's interacting together.
So there's this weird collaboration. And it happened probably about 10 or 20 years ago. That collaboration became a kind of sacred word in society and especially especially in business society. So and and the problem with that is that there's many different kinds of collaboration and they look and feel very different. But they all got together under this one word. So Lennon and McCartney, sitting together in a quiet room is collaboration and so is doing your work in the midst of a deafening open office plan.
They're both the same word, but totally different experiences. But I do think what I do think people came to, honest to God, believe in the power of twenty four seven collaboration. And I also think they use that as a convenient way to dress up economic incentives.
Yeah, I think the economic incentives are particularly interesting in the sense of like you have this very visible cost which is like rent and you know, you see it where you have this invisible kind of thing that you don't see, which is kind of productivity, moral motivation of people and how they get energy and how they apply that energy. And so you're you're you're kind of treating one part of what you see for something that you don't see.
Yes. Yeah, yes. That's exactly it. It's a it's an intangible cost and it's really difficult to put a number on it. And so people don't. But that doesn't mean it's not real. It's exactly. It doesn't mean it's not real. Exactly. Exactly. You and I'll throw it just from my own personal experience. I'll throw another wrinkle into this, which is to say I actually love working and writing in cafes and coworking spaces despite everything I just told you.
I really do, because I do pick up on the energy of people around me and I find it very, very invigorating. But I believe it's different working.
In a cafe as an anonymous person versus working in an office, an open office space with all your colleagues and all the politics that are flowing all around you, everywhere you look, the different experience mean people probably I mean, maybe you because you're so recognizable that I mean, people in general don't walk up to people in cafes anymore and kind of interrupt them or start conversations, whereas right at the right.
And they don't have the power to pull you into a meeting at a moment's notice. It's just a completely different thing. Meetings are the worst. This is the best part of it. Working for myself knows, like I set my own meetings and there. Yeah, yeah. And you can probably stagger them. Right, so that you can schedule them in a way that works for you. What did you used to do before you were podcasting?
I worked in an intelligence agency. Oh wow. Yeah. Do you mean the CIA or a different one, a three letter agency that I'm not actually allowed to name by law, so. Oh, wow. Interesting. OK, I want to hear more about that offline. Yeah, definitely. OK, do you think like that we structure environments. Should we be structuring them by work or by people. Oh wait Seymour. What do you mean. Well I mean is there types of work that lend themselves to different environments?
If you were to design an office environment for a company with, say, a thousand employees. And so you have a mix of introverts and extroverts and you have a range of of business functions from marketing to H.R. to programming to maybe legal. And how would you go about thinking about that? I mean, would how would you think about that? Oh, I see what you mean.
It's a little bit of both. So first of all, I think it's important to design workplaces now and nowadays where people have a choice of how they'd like to work. So a place where people can move freely back and forth between private spaces and open communal spaces I think is the ideal. And at the same time, there also are definitely job functions where regardless of what kind of personality you have, you just need more privacy than for others.
So being a lawyer is a really good example because you're often doing very confidential stuff and also you're often having to really sit down and think deeply in a way that would be really distracting if you had too much going on around you, which is something I've heard many journalists talk about to journalists now having to crank out pieces on deadline.
And they're in a really busy, chaotic office often. Tell me about how much trouble they have with that.
So I think it's a little bit of both of job function and personality.
And I do I do think the best bet, just as a rule of thumb, is offices that have enough flexibility that anybody can get what the space they need at a given time.
Do you think there's a broader consequence to this, this trend maybe of working from home or distributed work or maybe not so much working from cafes where we're at risk of everything is so convenient these days. Like I don't have to leave my house if I don't want to. Amazon can deliver everything. Groceries can come and meals can come in my interactions with people, even if my default is introversion, like my interactions with people, just the decline. Do you think there's a broader implication or consequence to that?
Yeah, I do.
And I think that we all need to be really mindful of it, especially for those of us like you who have that option to work from home.
You have to be really mindful of when you are approaching that level where you're going to go stir crazy or if not, stir crazy your moods, which might start to fall. Because I think you were kind of implying this in your question. It doesn't matter if you're an introvert, you still want to have social contact and at a certain point you start to crave it and you're not as happy when you're not having it. So you just have to be more proactive about trigger, about triggering your environment throughout the day, I guess isn't really like an introversion extroversion question.
It's more of like society is changing in a way where things come to us instead of us going to a mall and bumping into people and interacting with people. Just, you know, you can log on to your computer and you can order something and it shows up at your house. And you never have to speak with anybody. You never have to really see anybody. Right.
And I think that for all of us, that life that you just described in extremis is not happy making. And then the thing that's different for introverts and extroverts is that extroverts will get unhappy a lot more quickly than introverts will if they let that happen to them for extended periods of time.
But you know what I always say to people? So really, the difference between introverts and extroverts at a neurobiological level is that we have different nervous systems and introverts have nervous systems that react more to stimulation. So for us, the sweet spot is when there's less stimulation around us, that's when we tend to feel at our most energized and happy.
And for extroverts, they have nervous systems that react less to stimulation. So that means they need more of it to get to their sweet spot. And so it's kind of this question of different sweet spots. But the thing that's really key, and once you become aware of this, you'll notice it all the time that your own craving for and tolerance of stimulation varies throughout the day. So sometimes you need more, sometimes you need less. And if you start paying attention to that and then and honoring how you're actually feeling, you really can take the steps you need to get yourself into your sweet spot more of the time.
Do you think there's a biological clock like is that every day that kind of works that way? Or is it it ebbs and flows throughout the day? I think it ebbs and flows throughout the day and also in response to things that are happening in your life. So if you're having more overwhelming things happening in your life, you're probably going to be craving more of the downtime and vice versa. I want to go back to the open office plan for a second again, if I'm an introvert in an open office.
What advice would you give me other than, like, quitting?
Well, you know, there's the time honored at this point, time honored practice of wearing headphones which not only block out the noise, but also act as a social signal that heads down and working. Don't bother me right now. So that's a big one. And another one is scheduling the time you need to get your breaks. And so maybe it's taking a walk or maybe it's working out with your boss that you're going to work from home one day a week.
But you've got to figure out how to schedule in the breaks that you need to do crazy things like schedule meetings with myself and then go to a meeting room to actually do work. Yeah, exactly.
I know people talk about that all the time. They'll talk about. I know. Yeah. Or they'll say that they get to work really early in the morning or stay late at night because it's the only quiet time. It's crazy.
How would you recommend approaching that with your co-workers or your boss. Like bourgeoning this conversation of hey, I'm not at my most productive, I need different things. How would you.
Well, it kind of depends on what your relationship is. I mean, because if you have an open, friendly team, I would actually recommend you can go to my website. It's quiet dotcom. There's a personality test that's right up there. And you could have everybody in your team take the personality test. It takes like five minutes. It's really a fun thing to do. And then you could have a meeting where you all sit and talk about what your personality types are and how it impacts the way you like to work and when when exercised that we sometimes do when quiet revolution comes in and works with companies is an exercise called I Wish You Knew Where each person was thinking about and sharing with their colleagues.
What do I wish you knew about the way I like to work? Is that done anonymously or just the way I like to be? No. Well, you could do it anonymously, but we try to do it. I mean, if you have a group where people are open to each other, it doesn't need to be like you could sit and think anonymously, then you could share it with a group. And basically what you're doing is you're creating a space where it becomes socially acceptable to have this conversation.
So you're now in a space where it's OK to say, I wish you knew that when I sit here in this open space all day, I'm actually not getting as much work done as I could if I were in a quieter space. And that becomes a way to open up the conversation to, you know, well, what are some tweaks that we could make so that you could get more quiet time. And then there's other things, by the way, that that introverts need to hear.
Like, I wish you knew that when you react in a very muted way to a success that our team just had, it feels to me like you don't care, which is a very common one. That's why I bring it up. So these exercises can be very powerful. But but really, the underlying key to what I'm saying is creating the space where it's OK to talk about this stuff. And once I have found that once that dam has broken and people start to feel it's OK, they can't shut up about it because it's endlessly fascinating and endlessly impactful.
A lot of people's daily lives, so they want to talk about it. And once you have that psychological safety, you talk about something like that, I would imagine that carries over into other things. Instead of letting things fester, you're probably producing a more open environment where you can air your feelings and your thoughts and you feel safe in doing so.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's the Holy Grail. I think it's hard for people to accomplish in teams because I don't know. I think groups can be so inherently tricky to navigate and full of politics and so on. But I do think that's the goal. How do you think about a manager or team leader? Whatever you want to call them should think about hiring people. Is there do you want a mix of introverts and extroverts? Yes, that's what you want.
You most definitely want a mix and there's research talking about this, and I think common sense would also end because, you know, you can imagine you have a team, let's say, of all introverts, and you can just become kind of too quiet and you're kind of craving someone to inject some energy in or help with getting decisions kind of activated. You have a team of all extroverts and people aren't thinking things through enough and they're just saying, yeah, let's go for it.
And and maybe nobody's sitting down and kind of really getting the work done or thinking through the what if questions or the subtle questions of what might go wrong along the way or the things you need to attend to.
So you really, really need both types of people. But also just from a social point of view, there's all kinds of evidence in the social psychology literature that introverts and extroverts are attracted to each other as colleagues, as peers and so on, that there is this sense, I think we all know it, that especially for those of us who are on one side of the spectrum or the other, as opposed to more in the middle. I think that we know that we need the other type in our lives to complement us.
So we welcome them and people are happier that way. I guess that goes with you obviously marrying an extrovert. And do you think it's a balancing thing like it forces you just a little bit out of your default, or do you think there's something else going on there?
I think it's a little bit of both. I will say when it comes to marriages, according to the literature and also from what I see, about half of the marriages are with people of the same two people of the same personality style and then about half or these introvert extrovert pairings, which makes sense because there's pros and cons to both ways of doing it. But for your question at the introvert extrovert parings. Yeah, I think if you marry someone who's not of your type, yeah, they're pulling you out into another space and they think there's also a feeling that they're good at doing things that you are not.
And I mean, on a pragmatic level, that's just helpful. But I think it also makes you also admire them for being able to do things that that you can't do and vice versa. And then I think you feel appreciated for bringing in the pieces that are unique to you. So it's not that one is thinking about all of that consciously, but I think that's all going on.
There is a great part of your book where you mentioned that you should pay attention to what you envy. I think you said jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it's revealing of the truth. Yeah. Yeah.
What do you tend to envy and get jealous of? Well, that's a good question, because it's more like when did I used to envy. I think I mean, I think I came to that insight. I may have written about this in the book. I think I did that. I had this moment. So I used to be a corporate lawyer and it really, really was not what I should have been doing. And I would notice that if I would get together with other with friends in my field, with fellow lawyers, you know, they would talk about someone who had just gotten to argue a brief before the Supreme Court or some other legal accolade or somebody who is running for office or something.
And they were filled with with envy, really. And I would think. Huh, I don't feel that at all. I just feel happy for that person. I don't feel envious. And I at first I was sort of congratulating myself for being able to be so generously happy without feeling envy. And then I realized that it's really not it's just that I don't want these things myself. But there were other kinds of things that made me envious. And back then it was people who are doing what I'm now doing that I was really envious of.
So it was from that I started to realize, wow, it's like the things you envy that that point you in the direction of what do you really want for yourself? And this is a totally different question, but it's a corollary to it when you find yourself obsessed with a person or with a thing, often the obsession is also coming from that same place. I think you become obsessed with a person when that person has things that that you wish to have in your life and you don't have.
So all of these kind of ugly, your emotions are often pointing us in a hopeful direction.
If if you listen to them, how do you think about that in the context of social media where you're seeing the best of everybody else all the time?
Oh, yeah, that's a yeah. That's a really good question. And it's almost a different kind of envy because I think there with social media. Yeah, everybody's putting up such unrealistic pictures of themselves, of their lives. So, you know, we were talking at the beginning about how life for everybody is this mix of of joys and pains and beauty and ugliness and like that. But if you go on social media, you would never believe that.
If you go on social media, you're only seeing the beauty.
You're only seeing the joy. You're only seeing the strength. Right.
And so it makes you feel like the normal imperfections your own life are are so much worse.
So I think I don't know. I think the only antidote to that is to just remind yourself of that truth every time you find yourself getting sucked into that kind of social media envy. And also, I'm not to go on social media that much. I really don't spend that much time on it for I don't know, I just find it to be kind of it gives me the same feeling that I sometimes get from reading Vogue magazine. It's like it's it's pretty to look at and mildly interesting.
And you come away feeling vaguely that bad. I think social media is a lot like that. I want to and I don't mean, by the way, like sorry to interrupt you like cruising your Twitter feed for interesting information is is not in that category, but I'm talking more about the feeling you get when you're too deep into Facebook or something like that.
Yeah, I found the whole thing really weird. I had a Facebook account that I opened up to people at one point, maybe ten years ago. And it was like it is just a horrible experience. I mean, I had people contacting me that wanted to connect, you know, that had no time for me in high school. And then you'd be like, oh, fine. You can be. You can. To message me and then with three messages later, it's like, so what do you do for a living?
How much money do you make? We're going to party and it's like, oh, my God, wow.
Oh, yes. I deleted Facebook. And then I was like, this is this is crazy. Like, I don't know what people focus on this, but I want to circle back. I'm just in time here. I know you have a hard stop. So I wanted to ask you, as somebody who thinks of the living so much, what does it mean to live and live? What does it mean to live a meaningful life? Oh, well, you know, I think Freud had it right on this question.
I think it's love and I think it's work. And that's what matters. Love and work. And I work.
I mean, I'm using the definition of work pretty broadly. I don't mean like showing up at your marketing job and writing a memo. I mean, like, what is the work of your life like with the contribution that you want to make and the work that you really love to do. And that may be the work you're doing as a hobby on Sunday afternoons or or what have you. But I think those are at the end of the day, the two things that really matter.
And I also this is partly having to do with the next book that I'm writing. So I guess my mind is really in this place. But I think it's hugely important to be tuned in to the the beauty of humanity and also the fragility of humanity and to be tuned into your own beauty and fragility also. And and then to be thinking about that for everybody who passes by you on the street, like everyone who passes by, who has their own mix of those things and their own struggles.
And it's only when you're aware of them that you can really feel loving towards other people. How do you. So I think getting into that state by thinking about what people's stories are and there's this amazing video that everybody should go and download it by to download it. You can see it on YouTube and by the Cleveland Clinic, where it's this video where they show random people walking through the hospital corridors of the Cleveland Clinic. And if you were in those corridors, you'd probably pass those people by and you wouldn't really think twice about it.
But in this video, there's a little subtitle under each person as they walk by telling you what personal struggle they're going through. And you can't watch this video without crying. But what it also does, aside from that momentary emotional experience, like I sometimes try to think as I'm walking down the city street, like what each person subtitle is and I don't know what it is, but just reminding myself of the fact that everybody has their subtitle opens up in a completely different way.
How do you explore yours like your own subtotal? Do you do you consciously sit down and think about it and how do you walk through that, or is it something that you just need awareness of? Help me understand that the subtitles for my own life.
Do you mean you're meeting with you? It sounds like the commonality between all of this is like between work and love is meaning and how we drive meaning and then part of how we derive meaning in life. If I'm if I'm kind of connecting a few dots here, is by understanding that other people have stories going on about them. And then how do we explore our own stories. Yeah.
Huh. OK, or maybe I'm wrong. No, no, no, no, no.
I think what you said is exactly right or I mean right. In terms of the way I see it, I guess I think that the the challenge usually is more how do you become aware of other people's stories? Because you don't know what they are unless they're telling you the truth.
And as we've been saying, there's so much that's so that's been our culture designed to prevent people from really telling the whole truth and to the stories we tell ourselves.
The first story we tell ourself is the most convenient and flattering to our ego. That might not be the actual story of her. And if we don't if we don't scratch the surface of that initial story, we kind of have this blindspots. We're telling yourself this false narrative which shapes who we are. Yeah, no, that's true.
And you can it's hard to get away from our own false narratives. I guess I am a huge believer and I always have done this from the time I was a kid in writing a real diary. And I guess I alluded to it at the beginning, but writing things down. That you intend for, that you would be horrified if anybody else ever read like you wouldn't want. They're not intended for public consumption. You don't want it to be found in the attic after you die.
It's really just for you.
And that not only is that useful in and of itself, but I think it also just gets you into a state of mind where you're telling yourself that it's OK to tell the whole truth to yourself about everything you think and feel and fear and dislike and like that. I like that a lot. Susan, thanks so much.
I really appreciate you taking the time. Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much. I have to say, this is like the best podcast. I'm not commenting on my side of it. I'm coming on you. Like, this is the best podcast interview I've ever done and the best interview in general.
That's incredibly tedious. If you think, you know, you are so incredibly thoughtful. It's wonderful to talk to you. Well, thank you so much. Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And I am s t r e t blog. Dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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