Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking Paperback – 3 Feb 2013
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Marvellous. The most important book published for a decade (Lynne Truss Sunday Telegraph)
Quiet is a very timely book, and Cain's central thesis is fresh and important. Maybe the extrovert ideal is no longer as powerful as it was; perhaps it is time we all stopped to listen to the still, small voice of calm (Daisy Goodwin The Sunday Times)
Susan Cain's Quiet has sparked a quiet revolution. In our booming culture, hers is a still, small voice that punches above its weight. Perhaps rather than sitting back and asking people to speak up, managers and company leaders might lean forward and listen (Megan Walsh The Times)
I can't get Quiet out of my head. It is an important book - so persuasive and timely and heartfelt it should inevitably effect change in schools and offices (Jon Ronson The Guardian)
A startling, important, and readable page-turner (Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth)
About the Author
About the Author: Susan Cain is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School and Princeton University. She was a practicing corporate lawyer for seven years, before she took up writing as a full-time career. She also worked as a negotiations consultant and had the opportunity to train various working professionals, ranging from television producers to hedge fund managers. She even helped students in negotiating their initial salaries. During the span of her career she has represented clients such as Shearman & Sterling, General Electric, Merrill Lynch, One Hundred Women in Hedge Funds, JP Morgan and many others. She has received many accolades including the Harvard Law School Celebration Award for Thought Leadership and the Toastmasters International Golden Gavel Award for Communication and Leadership.
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Susan Cain is a former lawyer, an alumna of Harvard Law School, an introvert, who turned to homemaking and writing. She ‘looks back’ on her years as a Wall Street lawyer as time spent in a foreign country. “It was absorbing, it was exciting, and I got to meet a lot of interesting people whom I never would have known otherwise. But I was always an expatriate.”
That aggressive, self-assured, extroverted personality types are highly valued in competitive, materialistic, success-orientated nations like the US is well-known. Introverted, person-orientated, easygoing types tend to be regarded as second-class citizens. How extroversion became the cultural ideal in the US is dealt with in detail in Chapters 1-3. America had shifted from what Warren Susman called a ‘Culture of Character’ exemplified by Abraham Lincoln to a ‘Culture of Personality’ (under Donald Trump?) and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties, ‘a natural product of a society that was both dog-eat-dog and relentlessly social.’ America quickly developed from an agricultural society to an urbanized, ‘the business of America is business’ powerhouse. Dale Carnegie, Madison Avenue, Hollywood, IBM, Tony Robbins, and that temple of extroversion and doyen of vocal business leadership, Harvard Business School, and televangelists, all typify the rise of extraversion. The New Groupthink organized workforces into teams, even brainstorming in groups, and created open-office plans rendering creativity in solitude impossible. The rise of the worldwide web, however, has offered some respite for introverts, spawning wondrous creations via shared brainpower.
The basic personality type that a person has is a result of all factors in the person’s upbringing, including genetics. Psychologists accept that people do not change from one basic personality type to another, even though variations are possible, tempered by their pathological characteristics. The so-called Big 5 traits: introversion/extroversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and emotional stability encompass the gamut of personality traits.
Chapters 4-7 examine the biological basis of introversion, including brain structures in amygdala and neo-cortex, which are active participants in our emotional-rational lives. Recent research work by Jerome Kagan, the author of ‘Galen’s Prophecy,’ Dr. Carl Schwartz, and Dr. Elaine Aron are cited. Extroverts’ dopamine pathways lead to an emotional state called ‘the buzz’ – a rush of energized, enthusiastic feelings with a delightful champagne bubble quality. However, this may cloud their judgment. Financial and military history is replete with examples of extroverts charging ahead when they should have withdrawn. Introverts are threat-orientated and have an inbuilt loss-avoidance system, and so are less risk-taking. Despite the variety of experiences in our lifetime, our core traits remain constant.
Part 3 of the book deals with other cultures, in this case, mainly Chinese-Americans, who are more introverted and Mahatma Gandhi, who wielded soft power with devastating effect on the British Empire.
The value of the book is in Part 4, which advises introverts on how to love and how to work in the US.
If you are an introvert in corporate America, you should spend your weekdays striving to ‘get out there, mix, speak more often, and connect with your team and others, deploying all the energy and personality you can muster’ and retreat for quiet weekends. In other words, engage in a certain level of pretend-extroversion. Identify your core personal projects, and develop a ‘restorative niche’ as Professor Brian Little advocates. (Little also extolls the book as ‘superb’.)
In personal life, introverts who are married to extroverts must both strive to understand each others’ different ways and accept the realities to resolve their differences. Parents of introverted children must expose their children gradually to new situations and people and determine the right schools to put them in. ‘The secret to life,’ the author says, ‘is to put yourself in the right lighting’ (and not to avoid the spotlight). As group dynamics contain impediments to creative thinking, whereas solitude is often a spur to creativity, companies must think twice about how to design office space to accommodate both group interactions and “rabbit holes into which Alices can tumble”.
Susan Cain presents a strong case for introverts vs. extroverts in the US, emphasizing that the more socially desirable types have limitations, while the silent minority of introverts who receive fewer social rewards have assets which make them valuable, too. There is no doubt that healthy introverts are profound thinkers and visionaries, even geniuses, such as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Emily Dickinson. However, Susan Cain glosses over the intersection of introversion and other negative traits, such as neuroticism, schizoid behavior, delusions, and nihilism. The stress caused by social isolation and the physical exhaustion brought about by a hyperactive mind may eventually result in thought disorders and over-dependence on anxiety drugs, much of which plagues America today.
The book cover is understated, in subdued white, with the title and author’s name embossed, in sharp contrast to Americana, with red, blue, stars and stripes emblazoned in much of its merchandise.
The book is a must-read for expatriates in the USA who may find the pace loud and hectic. Just where can the true-blue introverts in the world find a sanctuary?
In Finland, of course. Finland is a famously introverted nation. Finnish Joke: How can you tell if a Finn likes you? He is staring at your shoes, instead of his own. (Page 14, ibid.)
Susan Cain really hits the target when she describes the introvert personality, and many times I felt that the book was written specifically about me. I prefer deep and meaningful conversations with a close friend over a noisy party. I like working alone and never understood the hype of teamwork. Too much social interaction can be quite exhausting, and I need lots of quiet time for myself to recharge. I think carefully before I speak, and get easily bored with superficial small talk. These are all typical traits of an introvert, but unlike in the common self-help books, author Susan Cain shows us that these traits are valuble strengths, and not weaknesses that needs to be corrected.
Susan Cain, herself being an introvert, has truly made it her life's mission to rectify the prevailing misconceptions and prejudice about introverted people. The foundation of the book is very strong, based on several years of research and interviews with hundreds of people from all walks of life. She gives us undisputable proof that the dominating factor behind our personality (extrovert vs. introvert) is found in our biology. We are born with a certain genetic setup, and only to some extent can we push ourselves beyond these pe-set conditions.
I love the way she slashes the modern myth that open office spaces fosters creativity and interaction between employees. In reality, the effect is quite the opposite. New research has shown that in order to work efficiently and come up with creative ideas, people need a private space of their own where they can close the door and not be disturbed. Very natural if you think about it, but hopelessly "out of fashion" in the corporate world today.
What I find particularly interesting about this book is the revelation that a majority of history's great thinkers, artists, scientists, inventors and leaders were considered introverts. They preferred, or even craved, solitude as a means of thinking deeply and coming up with new ideas. This agrees with my own experience; spending time alone is the only way to tap the inner source of wisdom and be really creative. The author gives many examples of introverts that have truly made an impact in human history, such as Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Rosa Parks. It's a fascinating read.
As for myself, I can honestly say that this book has changed my life. It had a huge impact on how I perceive myself in relation to other people, and gave valuble insight as to why I react the way I do in certain situations. The message is that it is perfectly normal and even desirable to be an introvert, and what a relief it was to finally understand that. The result is better self-confidence and self-respect in all areas of life. I am now able to celebrate and honor my quiet personality, instead of worrying about being an unsociable freak.
The world is a natural mix of introverts and extroverts, and both kind of personalities are needed in a well-functioning society. An introvert has many natural skills that an extrovert lacks, and vice versa. We simply complement each other. Unfortunately, however, extrovertism is the only quality that is rewarded in today's fast paced lifestyle. This book has the power to change all that, and make a real impact on how we design our work and school environments to fit everybody's needs. It has been called "one of the most important books published for a decade", and I couldn't agree more.
If you are an introvert person, this is an eye-opening and life changing read. And if you are an extrovert person, this book will give you a better understanding of all the quiet people among family, friends and colleagues at work. For teachers, it gives invaluble information on how to handle the quiet kids in school. In a nutshell: this is essential reading for everyone, and I recommend it with all my heart.
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