Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The quiet folk get their due in this mix of business psychology and self-help that describes the power of introversion in business and daily life.

Susan Cain, a self-described introvert, discusses the results of her years of following the stories about these hard-to-know people. You may recognize them as the ones that avoid parties, prefer books or quiet nights at home with family, and who sometimes get left behind in fast-paced business meetings. I certainly define myself as an introvert, and recognized my own experiences in many of Quiet's vignettes(Ah, finally, a business trend that will work in my favor!)

Moving from extroversion centers like Tony Robbins' self-help conventions, Rick Warren's evangelical Saddleback Church, and the Harvard Business School, Cain outlines the American cultural bias toward confident, energetic charmers who naturally gravitate toward people and are often seen as leaders. This bias weakens society by clouding our judgment of people and the true value of their ideas, she argues, and forces square pegs into round holes. Even our education system caters almost exclusively to one type of personality: the Extrovert Ideal.

Extroverts may make fine leaders, but there are certain jobs that introverts are best-suited for. Imagine life without important figures such as Rosa Parks, Steve Wozniak, Gandhi, or Eleanor Roosevelt, all of whom Cain drafts to the introvert cause. Cain argues for a balanced acceptance of different personality types, using scientific studies and anecdotes to back up her claims.

I'm generally skeptical of self-help and business books, but Cain purposefully avoids making sweeping scientific assertions. She presents intriguing facts and tries to argue for balance. Some of her suggestions may help soothe the anxiety many introverts feel about their need to withdraw and carve out time for reflection - needs that are sometimes painted as anti-social in our outgoing society.

That said, I am still hesitant to give too much credit to Myers-Briggs-type personality tests, which categorize people into neat pigeonholes with the same kind of confidence seen in phrenology or astrology. People are incredibly complex - we are only now starting to glimpse the interior workings of the human brain, and our understanding is far from perfect. I think Cain strikes the right tone here, offering her conclusions and the research results with the right amount of doubt.

Cain presents many of her ideas in this TED Talk, which I urge you to check out if you're interested in the subject.


"The way forward, I'm suggesting, is not to stop collaborating face-to-face, but to refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people's natural strengths and temperaments. ... We also need to create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone. Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others - cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation - but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own. It's also vital to recognize that many people - especially introverts like Steve Wozniak - need extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work." - 93-94

"Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality - neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making." - 124

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