To change the subject before going to bed, i read some more in “Quiet: The Power of Introverts,” a book written by Susan Cain. Aside from realizing, on a more personal level, that putting extroverts on a pedestal leads to cultural trauma, i connected some dots that Cain seems to leave unconnected (see update below…). I happened to be reading a section about Harvard Business School. Cain points out that HBS graduates are in most important positions – from Presidents to CEOs, including Goldman Sachs, which was (and is!) one of the main players in the financial crisis. Its current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein went to Harvard and so did the previous one, Henry Paulson who was Secretary of the Treasury during the meltdown.
What are the dots? The dots are the blatant refusal to take responsibility for anything, the ability to talk as if they knew what they were talking about (or worse, saying the opposite of what they knew to be going on), and other dots remarkably similar to the characteristics of the extrovert ideal the US culture is steeped in and which is demanded at Harvard Business School.
The dots came together in my mind, when i read what the school teaches for good class participation (47):
“Speak with conviction. Even if you believe something only fifty-five percent, say it as if you believe it a hundred percent.”
Like, when you tell the nation that there are no problems in the financial markets. That Lehman Brothers is perfectly healthy and no one has to worry about anything.
In a culture where thinking fast is preferable to thinking carefully, where quick action is admired more than thoughtful action, where you are considered more intelligent the more you speak (as long as you speak with conviction), in short, in a culture where extroverts are idealized and introverts shamed, the financial meltdown is almost inevitable. We have now created a system that is set up to reward gregarious behavior and punish honesty (or at least not reward it) – no matter where that behavior leads (the movie points out that none of the corporate executives who were behind the meltdown have been investigated by the department of justice).
As long as we continue to let ourselves be blinded by behavior, we will live in a world that will be dominated by personalities that get away with robbery. Stepping away from the extrovert ideal, we can stop and think – and look at the data, which shows just how precarious our current situation is. We are set up for a repeat of the financial meltdown. No, not a repeat. It’ll be worse. At the same time, everything else is falling apart from our bodies to our economy and the environment. As Susan Cain puts it (55):
We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.
And we need that more than ever if we want to move back from the cliff.
Update: Susan Cain does also connect these dots and provides the scientific evidence, too. She writes (159):
But just as the amygdala of a high-reactive person is more sensitive than average to novelty, so do extroverts seem to be more susceptible than introverts to the reward-seeking cravings of the old brain. In fact, some scientists are starting to explore the idea that reward-sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion; it is what makes an extrovert and extrovert. Extroverts, in other words, are characterized by their tendency to seek rewards, from top dog status to sexual highs to cold cash. They’ve been found to have greater economic, political, and hedonistic ambitions than introverts; even their sociability is a function of reward-sensitivity, according to this view – extroverts socialize because human connection is inherently gratifying.