Quiet Confidence: The relative theory of being alone

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As one of the world’s most recognised and revered physicists, Einstein has been quoted as saying:

“The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.”

Introverts often are comfortable working alone. Aloneness is not something they shun, it’s something they crave for more often.

Even if an introvert starts a business through a partnership or joint venture, you will likely find an introvert working alone at some point in their career.

If an introvert starts a business with an extroverted partner, often the introvert is the one who is behind the scenes.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, put it this way:

“Most inventors and engineers I have met are like me, they are shy and they live in their heads. They work best when they are alone, and can control an invention’s design. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take: work alone. You are going to be able to design revolutionary products and features.”

Introverts tend to stick and ponder on a problem for a long time.

They may not say anything while carrying on with their lives, but in their minds in the background they are digesting that problem, asking questions and working out possible answers.

Maybe this is why Albert Einstein famously said:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

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Quiet Confidence: Mahube’s Silent Adventure

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After his mother passed on due to cancer, he decided to do something to help people who are suffering from cancer.

The belief is always that to have an impact in your community you need to be well known, articulate, attend big and “important” events, talk big and do big.

The challenge with him is that he is an introvert who wants to do work that matters in the community.

Mahube Mpugwa, General Manager of Puma Energy Botswana and a TEDxGaborone speaker shared his journey of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Everest camp base as a way of raising funds for people who are struggling with cancer. It is his mother who passed on from cancer.

As an introvert, growing up surrounded by Kalahari sand dunes and no mountains in Botswana, Mahube ventured to climbing mountains for a cause he believed in.

Mahube is not a big talker, but a big doer. His swag is doing work that matters, not talking about work that matters.

At the outset of a predominantly extroverted world, we are urged to develop an extroverted personality for frankly selfish reasons, as a way of outshining the crowd in a newly anonymous and competitive society.

Today we tend to think that becoming extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people.

We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world.

Hence Business Schools, such as Harvard, Cambridge, GIBS are called the “Spiritual Capital of Extroversion.” Good luck finding an introvert in these institutions. If you do find them, they are bitter introverts, because they are constantly challenged open up.

As a lecturer to MBA students, I encourage my students to talk when they feel it is really important, not because they feel they have to show off. The idea is to have a conversation not a class debate.

The essence of MBA education is that leaders have to act confidently and make decisions in the face of incomplete information. The age old question being: if you don’t have all the facts, and often you won’t, should you wait to act until you have collected as much data as possible? Or, by hesitating, do you risk losing other’s trust and your own momentum? The answer is not obvious.

MBA students love the sound of their own voices because they have been trained through what is called “class-participation” where marks are allocated by how intelligent you sound in class. If you keep quiet, you score low marks.

Business schools try hard to turn quiet students into talkers.

Harvard University even hosts live information sessions and web pages on how to be a good class participator. Their mantra is “Speak with conviction. Even if you believe something only 55%, say it as if you believe it a 100%.”

For introverts, socializing at Business Schools is an extreme sport.

People go out at night like it is their full time job.

If countries were to be classified as introvert or extroverts. USA is an intoxicated extrovert and China is a serial introvert.

In China the emphasis is on listening, on asking questions rather than holding forth, on putting other’s needs first.

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, China will surpass USA’s economy by 2026 or reports say by 2018. If or when this happens, the world will be lead by an introvert country.

In sharing the challenges and pain of climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Everest Base, Mahube Mpugwa says the following in his TEDxGaborone talk:

“The pain and challenge of mountaineering was temporary for me, but for a cancer patient the suffering is part of the daily experience. Days without a shower, limited oxygen, adverse weather conditions from mother-nature were nothing compared to what a cancer patient has to go through.

He concludes his talk by saying:

“As an introvert, I overcame my insecurities by challenging myself, I contributed to a worthy cause in the process and I believe that I have made a difference in my small but significant way in someone’s life.”

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Picture: Mabube [right] together with his partner Moraki Mokgosana [left] climbed Mt Everest Base Camp as part of raising funds for the Cancer Association of Botswana.

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Quiet Confidence: Shades of Sade

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Can artists be introverts?

Are introverts shy and hate crowds?

The truth is that crowds may not be the introvert’s favourite hang out spot, but introverts are not necessarily shy.

There are several successful performing artists who are introverts:

  • Sade Adu
  • Beyonce Knowles
  • Christina Aguilera
  • Lady Gaga
  • Bob Dylan
  • Marlon Brando
  • Julia Roberts
  • Michael Jordan
  • Keanu Reeves

Sade has been quoted as saying:

“I’m not shy or reclusive. I just spend my time with people rather than journalists.”

“I’m uneasy with fame so I do my best to avoid places that will bring me more attention.”

“All the cliches of glamorous sophistication have little appeal to me. Do I want to live the British version of ‘Dynasty?’ No thanks!”

“People generally let me be me. People are aware that I’m not someone particularly begging for attention. They hold back a bit with me.”

“People are so used to having their lives filmed, they’re not even conscious of having cameras around. I still have that sort of suspicion when a camera comes out. I view it as a thing to fear.”

“I only make records when I feel I have something to say. I’m not interested in releasing music just for the sake of selling something. Sade is not a brand.”

A recent study shows that in order to be more creative, you need to feel more comfortable being alone.

Being alone is the best time for introverts.

Different studies are cited, including one in 2012 that indicated that spending 4 days immersed in nature would improve creative problem solving by 50%.

Apple founder Steve Wozniak was quoted saying that inventors and engineers work like artists, and need to be alone, outside of their companies, where they can invent peacefully without others affecting them.

Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulations, as when they sip a cup of coffee with a close friend in a quiet restaurant, solve a puzzle or read a book.

Introverts do talk, but they prefer talking to a close friend and not to crowds.

Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, and cracking up the stereo.

Introverts recharge their batteries away from people, extroverts recharge their batteries throw people.

After a big performance, an introvert wants alone time in his room, an extrovert wants an after-party.

When on vacation, an introvert prefers visiting heritages and historical sites, reading a book on the beach.

When on holiday, an extrovert prefers going out at night, meeting new people, partying on a cruise ship.

An introvert is stimulated by a room full of 100 books, an extrovert is stimulated by a room full of 100 people.

Introversion is not a handicap or some form of pathology that needs to be cured.

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Quiet Confidence: The Silent Justice

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At the age of 14 he had to leave school to earn a living. He worked in a shirt factory, then found employment as an interpreter and messenger for the Department of Justice.

Later completed his matric and then his various law degrees with the help of his brilliant mind, iron discipline, hard work and his tenacity.

The late former Chief Justice Pius Langa believed in trust. He took on the highest office of the Constitutional Court following its honeymoon phase, and created a judiciary that people trusted.

He wanted people to trust him. When a court clerk asked him to sing to prove his claim that he was a baritone, he smiled and asked: “Why? Don’t you trust me?” He did not sing.

Pius Langa was a soft spoken, even quiet, man.

He often worked hard alone in his office that he would forget to eat. The tray with his food would sit next to him and he would take a few bites.

His subordinates in the beginning were intimidated by his quiet, serious stature. It took them a couple of months to realise that half of the time he was joking when he talked to them.

He always listened to his clerks, making them feel as though their opinion mattered. Langa liked it best when they disagreed and would argue their respective points.

In his book My Own Liberator, Former Judge Dikgang Moseneke described Judge Pius Langa as follows:

“Pius Nkonzo Langa was a quiet man, certainly less talkative than me, and he was a patient listener. He was also supportive and welcoming. He was blessed with quiet wisdom and judicial temperament.”

We live in a world value system that has a belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.

Introversion, along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness, is now a second class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.

As a child you may have overheard parents apologise for your shyness. [‘Why can’t you be more like the Maphosa boys.”]

Research suggests that the vast majority of teachers believe that the ideal student is an extrovert, the one who is articulate, team player, not shy, can stand in front of a class and talk, talk to confidently students, teachers, parents etc.

Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Speed of speech is also counted, we rank fast talkers as more competent and likeable than slow ones.

The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble in the group are considered smarter than the quiet and reticent, even though we know that there is zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.

It is important to note that some of the great ideas, art, and inventions, from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer, came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.

Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:

  • The theory of gravity
  • The theory of relativity
  • Apple Inc
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Thriller and Billy Jean
  • Microsoft
  • Harry Potter
  • Tesla, PayPal, Space X, and Solar City
  • Kaizer Chiefs
  • Mixit
  • Hashim Amla

Neither E=MC2, Maru or The Godfather were dashed off by a party animal.

Contrary to popular belief, introverts have social skills and occassionally enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while they wish they were home in their pajamas.

When asked to described himself in a sentence Trevor Noah say: “I’m an introvert with extroverted tendencies.”

They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family.

They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.

The late Chief Justice is the epitome of work hard in silence let your success be your noise.

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Quiet Confidence: The Silent Parks

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Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on.

She carries herself erectly, despite having spent the day bent over an ironing board in a dingy basement tailor shop at the Montgomery Fair department sotre.

Her feet are swollen, her shoulders ache.

She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with passengers. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.

The women utters a single word that ignites one of the most important civil rights protest of the twentieth century, one word that helps America find its better self.

The word is “No.”

The driver threatens to have her arrested.

“You may do that,” says Rosa Parks.

A police officer arrives. He asks Parks why she won’t move.

“Why do you all push around?” she answers simply.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But the law is the law, and you are under arrest.”

On the afternoon of her trial and conviction for disorderly conduct, the Montgomery Improvement Association holds a rally for Parks at the Holt Street Baptist Church, in the poorest section of town.

Five thousands gather to support Park’s lonely act of courage.

The squeeze inside the church until its pews can no longer hold.

The rest wait patiently outside, listening through loudspeakers when Martin Luther King Jr gives a speech of praise to Mrs Parks. He praises Mrs Park’s bravery and hugs her.

She stands silently, her mere presence enough to galvanize the crowd.

The association launches a citywide bus boycott that lasts 381 days.

The people walks long kilometres to work.

They carpool with strangers.

They change the course of American history.

I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately women with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of ninety-two, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature.

They said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.”

They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”

What does it mean to be quiet and have fortitude? The descriptions asked implicitly. How could you be shy and courageous?

Parks herself seemed aware of this paradox, calling her autobiography Quiet Strength, a title that challenges us to question our assumption.

Why shouldn’t being quiet be strong?

And what else can quiet do that we don’t give credit for?

Parks was not a loud, talkative person, she was not a show-stopper whose entrance was a head-turner, yet her introverteness, quiet confidence changed the world.

We live in a extroverted world that encourages and rewards people who are loud, talking all the time, the world that sees being quiet and low-profile as a weakness.

But in actual fact, people who tend to change the world, people who solves our deep problems, people who come up with medical solutions to the world’s deadly diseases are quiet, thoughtful people who spend hours and hours of solitude thinking, tinkering and implementing.

The more quieter you become, the more you are able to listen.

The world encourages extroversion, the place of work rewards extroversion, those who talk the most, are always seen as “good communicators” and therefore leadership material.

If you are quiet at work, you are seen as timid, a push over and therefore not likely to be promoted. The world of work has become a battlefield for those who talk the longest and loudest. The one who talks the most, get’s promoted.

Even churches encourages extroversion.

Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme… If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It is not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine, it must be displayed publicly.

We have created an impression that the more silent you are with your belief, the shallow your belief is. The more pronounce and vocal you are, the louder you scream in church, the more evangelic you are.

My thoughts are not anti-extroversion but more pro-introversion. 

Now that you are an adult, you might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favor of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you are told that you are “in your head too much,” a phrase that is often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Or maybe there is another word for such people: thinkers.

 

The world is changed and shaped by thinkers and doers, not talkers.

It is a challenge to talk and do at the same time. Even Martin Luther King was an introvert.

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The difference between average and mediocre

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Management often works to maintain the status quo, to deliver average products to average people.

In a stable environment, this is exactly the right strategy. Build realibility and predictability, cut costs, sell more and make a profit.

Traditional marketing, the marketing of push, mass marketing, understands this.

The most stable thing to do is push a standard product to a standard audience and succeed with discounts or distribution.

But for entrepreneurs, average can mean mediocre. Not worth seeking out. Boring.

Life is too short to fight the forces of change.

Life is too short to hate what you do all day.

Life is way too short to make mediocre stuff.

And almost everything that’s standard is now viewed as mediocre.

Is there a difference between average and mediocre?

Not so much.

Average stuff is taken for granted, not talked about, not remarked about, and certainly not sought out.

The end result of this is that many people [many really good people] spend all day trying to defend what they do, trying to sell that they have always sold, and trying to prevent their businesses from being devoured by the forces of the new.

It must be wearing them down.

Defending mediocrity is exhausting.

Defending mediocre leadership, business, product, behavior or even relationship is exhausting.

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More Compassion

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A picture of St John Paul II meeting with and forgiving his would be assassin.

History tells you: Disagree > Dispute > Disengage > War > Trials > Executions

Compassion tells you: Empathise > Connect > Include > Re-engage

We don’t need more stuff, we need more humanity.

Being human is the only way to win.

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The victim

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Does your job happen to you?

Does your business, project, art, process or situation happen to you?

If you are a willing cog in the vast machinery of work, it is entirely possible that the things that occur all day feel like they are being done to you.

If your business is merely surviving one month to another, it is highly likely that it is responding to the competition and losing clients slowly.

The alternative is to create a job where you create forward motion, where you do things to the job, not the other way around.

The alternative is to embrace innovation, disrupt yourself, cannibalise your own sales, create the second curve, not the other way round.

Take a look at the language you use to describe what happened at work yesterday, that is your first clue.

If you are not the one creating the change, perhaps it is time to start.

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Scars

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Scars are painful

Scars are difficult to carry.

Some scars we carry because we have no choice but to carry them.

The toughest scars to heal are concealed on the inside

It is such scars that defines you view life, for the rest of your life.

Sometimes you wonder how will you cope carrying such a difficult load.

Sometimes you are okay and forget about it but some days the scar hits you so hard that you will not dare forget about it.

It is a double edge sword to wounding, some scars are reminder that you have survived the worst, but some scars are so heavy that you struggle to breathe.

There are wounds that never show on the body that are  deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.

You then wonder how will you survive this, where do you start, what is the procedure, where is the step by step manual to healing?

Like a dog lying next to its owner who just passed on, confused and hoping that the owner will wake up, all that is left is hope.

Some wounds no matter how you explain the pain to someone, no amount of words will do justice to the experience.

You then have to carry your wound.

With the ego, your whole being is a wound. And you carry it around.

Being aware of your wound.

The scars will

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a
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e

But the sadness

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t
a
y
s

In time, all you can hope for is that the sadness becomes bearable to carry.

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The Sound of Silence: and serenity

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Silence and solitude are universally recognized spiritual practices, and there are good reasons for this.

Learning how to discipline your speech is a way of preventing your energies from spilling out of you through the rupture of your mouth, exhausting you and filling the world with words, words, words instead of serenity, peace and bliss.

A monk said:

“The resting place of the mind is the heart. The only thing the mind hears all day is clanging bells and noise and argument, and all it wants is quietude. The only place the mind will ever find peace is inside the silence of the heart. That’s where you need to go.”

Your treasure, your perfection, is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the busy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.

The yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy.

We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash …

To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.

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