Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking is a very engaging, thought provoking, well researched book. Author Susan Cain explores the Extrovert Ideal that we have created and strive to achieve. We spend thousands of dollars and hours in self help books and seminars, in trying to become more popular with people, to impress people at first sight because we have been convinced that salesmanship is a virtue but that virtue begins with selling yourself. We spend all kinds of time and money to become exuberant, upbeat, over energetic and over confident. This is the Extrovert Ideal that has been sold to us. But what if you are the calm, reflective kind of person who likes her own company, who prefers to listen rather than talk, what if you enjoy the company of a few good friends rather than large boisterous parties, what if your preferred hobbies are solitary activites like reading, gardening or solo sailing? Should you spend your time and effort in changing yourself from being an introvert to fitting the Extrovert Ideal?
Many psychologists have tried before to describe an introvert. Cain accepts that there is no all-purpose definition of an introvert. Cain distinguishes between an introvert and someone who is shy. An introvert can be shy but more often than not introverts have strong social skills and may not be recognized as introvert. Cain describes an introvert as one who needs less stimulation than an extrovert, one who rejuvenates from within where an extrovert seeks external objects and people for rejuvenation. Introverts enjoy solitude, tend to talk less and listen more, work more slowly and deliberately, prefer a few close friends and deep discussions over parties and small talk.
Cain credits Dale Carnegie with starting the Extrovert Ideal which moved us from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality. The Culture of Character called for seriousness, discipline, honour. The Culture of Personality calls for being bold and entertaining. We have moved from “inner virtue to outer charm”. The book is full of interesting tidbits, here is one sample – one senior manager the author interviews at Eastman Kodak tells her it is no use if one is able to sit at a computer and create a fantastic regression analysis if you cannot give a speech about it! In our world, it is ok not to be able to do a regression analysis but certainly not acceptable if you can’t talk about it having done one!!
Cain discusses Extroverts and Introverts as leaders. Popular belief is that extroverts make better leaders and business schools have long subscribed to that idea. Introverts can be equally successful at leadership. Introverts are good leaders especially with workers who have initiative since they are good listeners and more likely to implement good suggestions from others. Extrovert leaders on the other hand may be so keen on putting their own stamp on everything that they may not incorporate good ideas from others. Extroverted leaders seem to be more successful with passive workers. There are good tips in the book to use in the workplace e.g. if you are a Manager of people and want to harvest all ideas from your team, remember that meetings will deprive you of the chance to listen to the introverted members of your team who may have thought deeply about the subject at hand but who may not speak up at a meeting. Send out an email, suggests the author, to collect ideas, the introverts are more likely to write down their ideas in great detail and you the Manager would have access to all ideas.
She also explores introversion with creativity. Solitude and contemplation are the hallmarks of the introverts which often encourages creativity. And yet all our institutions, schools, the workplace focus on the Group Think of teams. Are we stifling creativity? Are our school systems catering to the development of our introverted children by exposing them constantly to group work?
Is it nature or nuture that make us introverts or extroverts? Both traits certainly have genetic traits but it is both nature and nurture that shape who we become. Cain offers many good tips for raising the introverted child. The introverted child will blossom with gentle parenting.
Do all cultures revere the Extrovert Ideal? The author gives the example of Asian Americans in whose culture Introverts are not looked down upon. Youngsters are expected and respected for being studious rather than athletic
Cain is not against extroverts but suggests a symbiotic relationship between introverts and extroverts in which tasks are divided according to people’s natural tendencies, strengths and temperaments, basically she promotes creating a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts allowing them to operate at their best. This is a very interesting, readable book, I highly recommend it.
Geetha`s love of books began when she was a child. She later turned that love into formal education with a Masters in English Literature and then again into a career for a few years, teaching English at Ethiraj and Fergusson Colleges in India. Though her career took her into the computer industry, Geetha has continued to read both individually as well as part of a book club in Newmarket, Canada where she lives.