I have a mix of very positive and very ho-hum feelings towards the book “Quiet” which starts off well with an argument to say we westerners live in a very rah rah extrovert culture, and that it is ill-geared for those of us who are introverts. By the end of the book I find the author going right off the rails – and I find her claim that entire cultures (Asians) are basically way more introvert than extrovert somewhat spurious. Put me right somebody, but isn’t introversion mostly a genetic trait rather than socially driven? In which case the book gets into the same dangerous territory as that book The Bell Curve which appeared a few years back, claiming that some races are more intelligent than others.
However, one section of Quiet was on much more solid ground: the discussion about modern office space and how it is built around the idea of “the team”, but may be more about the idea of “how many people can we fit in, per square metre?”
Now if you’re an introvert, the constant buzz of being in an open-plan may be a spectacularly suitable thing. You feel so connected! You’re plugged in to a dozen conversations. You can quickly discuss the latest project.
But for introverts who have no real need for this continuous sense of being plugged-in, the open plan is just a distraction – and a very significant one. Try focusing on a structural equation model in a room full of ping pong players. That’s what it’s like.
In Quiet, a number of figures are quoted about loss of productivity surrounding the open-plan office compared to a more individualistic floorplan – and these figures are worthy of closer inspection. I’d be willing to bet that a typical research company could lift overall productivity by at least 5% simply by offering more quiet spaces for researchers to damn well focus and think.
Right now many researchers are already signalling a desire to do this – with their white earbuds or their choice of working from home.