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I know, it is easy to feel a bit of smuggish pleasure when an above-the-fold article in the Sunday New York Times articulates just what you have been saying for years.* Certainly I am not the only artist out there voicing advocacy for the way of solitude. There are many of us in that phalanx (metaphorical only!) who spend most of our days working alone and know that is the only way we can do what we do. But Susan Cain, author of an upcoming book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has brought the topic to a larger audience.
From her article, The Rise of the New Groupthink:
Solitude is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.
In her article, Cain highlights the necessary introverted approach of Apple’s cofounder Steve Wozniak. And given the current spike in interest in Steve Jobs and Apple, this telling of the story is important:
The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs.
But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself.
Intentionally so. In his memoir, Mr. Wozniak offers this guidance to aspiring inventors:
“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone… Not on a committee. Not on a team.”
I am looking forward to reading the book. And for a few more converts—or at least more respect—for the hermet’s life.
*Here are a few previous posts on Slow Muse that touch on the value of solitude:
My recent reading of Montaigne has increased my interest in how simple, straightforward “how to live” advice is made available. In our era we rely on data to validate our claims, so contemporary advice takes on a different hue. I was struck by this when I came across The Ψ Project blog and a list of findings from studies during the year that yielded insights both useful and interesting. (These were originally assembled by David DiSalvo at Psychology Today.)
We spend almost half of our time awake lost in day-dreams…. And it doesn’t make us happy.
We’re happier when we’re busy, but are wired to be lazy.
The rich have no need to develop empathy. The poor do.
Forgive yourself for procrastinating, and the procrastination will stop.
Note: You can read DiSalvo’s list for 2009 here. A few samples:
If you have to choose between buying something or spending the money on a memorable experience, go with the experience.
Turns out, saying you’re sorry really is important—and not just to you
If you’re preparing for a specific challenge, make sure you prep for that challenge and not just ones like it.