Wednesday, March 28, 2012

QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain



THE GIST:

An exploration of the role of introverts in a culture that celebrates extroversion.

THE VERDICT:

This is a smart examination of what it's like to be an introvert in America. Susan Cain delves into the latest research about introversion, and about how the particular skills of introverts are not being used in the current business culture. Cain explains how corporate culture (again, particularly in America) has evolved to value extroversion above all other qualities. An outgoing personality is often seen as the essential leadership skill, above even good decision-making and intelligence. However, research has shown that extroverts, who are often impulsive and risk-prone, are no more effective at leading companies than introverts. In fact, Cain argues that the domination of risk-takers was a major factor in the recent financial collapse. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult for introverts to make their voices heard.

Cain writes about how important it is to acknowledge the needs of your personality type and to stop viewing introversion as a handicap. This type of personality can be a powerful asset, and Cain urges people to take notice of the benefits of having a cerebral, independent nature. She talks about the importance of making choices that will allow you to be the most happy and productive. This may involve working hard to acquire skills that come naturally to others, but it also means making sure you have the space and time you need to produce your best work. Much of her advice is suited for the workplace, but Cain also discusses the need to understand introverts if you are a parent of an introvert or work in education. Identifying and encouraging the strengths in your quiet children and students instead of forcing them to be more outgoing can make a world of difference.

Introverts are often forced to pass as extroverts in order to compete. In many cases, it is difficult for them to reach their full potential because of the extra effort involved in living up to the outgoing, social ideal. I am a textbook introvert. I work better on my own than in a group, need time alone to process information, and prefer to observe in social situations before jumping in. I don't pass as an extrovert, but I have had to make a concerted effort to learn networking skills, take risks, and be proactive about connecting with people and opportunities. This is how many introverts succeed when they lack outgoing personalities. Cain notes that Asian cultures tend to be much more appreciative of introverted characteristics. She interviews Asian-American students who have to find their voice in American classrooms and social environments, often choosing to adopt a persona in order to succeed.

This book was carefully researched and highly engaging. I literally couldn't put it down, which is impressive for a work of straight non-fiction. As I was reading, I kept thinking that QUIET could be my personal manifesto. I feel that I have embraced my quiet nature, but I also recognize that I need to cultivate certain "extrovert skills" in order to achieve my goals. This book strikes a nice balance between acknowledging the reality of our culture's extrovert celebration and arguing to nurture the skills that introverts have to offer. I highly recommend this book.

THE LINK:

The Power of Introverts website. There's an awesome TED talk here.

THE COST:

$12.99 for the Kindle edition

THE QUESTION:

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Does the culture in your country value one type of personality over the other? Have you chosen a career that is compatible with your personality type?

13 comments:

  1. This sounds great! I was drawn to Hong Kong in my teens because I was so shy and felt uncomfortable at college parties in the US. I liked how I could be myself in a city of 6 million plus, but wouldn't feel pressure to be super outgoing. The Chinese way of expressing oneself was more my style. So I can totally relate. Now that I'm older and a little less reserved, I think back to years when I was a teenager or in my early 20s and wish I could be more like that!

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    1. I can definitely relate to this. I also feel like I can be myself in Hong Kong. I'm the only non-Chinese person at my workplace, but I feel that our office environment suits me because I can focus on my work without stopping to chat too much. I do miss the company sometimes, though.

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  2. My husband doesn't think I'm an introvert but he thinks I'm highly reactive/sensitive. I'm in the middle of the book - wonder how the author would classify me.

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    1. The author spends quite a bit of time talking about highly reactive/sensitive people because they are often introverted. She gives a lot of suggestions for things people can do to feel more comfortable. I'm very much an introvert, but I'm not highly reactive at all. I'm an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs scale.

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  3. +JMJ+

    I'm an introvert, too, and would love to give this book to a friend of mine, who seems to think of introversion as a handicap or even mental illness. =/ She recently wrote on her Facebook wall that she had read about a study that showed a correlation between introversion and watching a lot of TV at a certain young age; and as a consequence, she had decided to let her baby daughter watch no TV until she had started school. It's a move I actually get behind, although I can't support the motivation.

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    1. It definitely isn't a handicap, just a way of processing what's going on around you. Personally, I think it's an asset. If your friend's daughter turns out to be an introvert I hope her mom will be able to work with her strengths. Apparently at least 1/3 of the population (in the US) are introverts. I spent a lot of time reading as a kid instead of watching TV :).

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  4. You probably liked the book, Shannon, because you found yourself in the pages. In a capitalist society like the United States, people have to make sure that other will notice them in order to move forward. But they don't have to. They can find jobs where people advance based on their accomplistments, and not based on their persnality .. like scientists, dentists ect. Many of the richest men in the USA were introverts geeks who focus on learning and building somthing new, like Bill Gates of Microsoft. So, being introvert isn't an handicap if you plan your life accordingly.

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    1. I agree with you Giora. I think it's important to recognize your strengths and then be proactive. You have to create environments where you can do your best work, no matter what your personality type is.

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  5. Hello! My first visit, will visit you again. Seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Congrats for your work. If you wish to follow back that would be great I'm at http://nelsonsouzza.blogspot.com
    Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Most British people are typified as introverts; however, Scots tend to be extroverts. I'm Scottish, therefore extrovert (to an extent). My career was as a librarian, SO NOT an introvert job! If you can't speak to people, you have no business as a librarian! When I used to interview candidates for librarian positions, I always avoided the introverts who "liked books" and opted for the extroverts who "liked people".

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    1. I didn't know there is such a big difference between Scots and other Brits. You would almost expect the stereotypical librarian to be an introvert, but it makes sense that an ability to work well with people is essential. I suppose an introvert would be more likely to make an archivist.

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  7. in India, i think women are expected to be introverts. When a girl has an unconventional opinion or is a bit loud, she is soon made quiet...

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    1. I think it's fascinating that different cultures, or even different social groups within the same culture, can impose such restrictions on your personality. I think the US was similar to India until about 50 years ago. Now you're boring or awkward if you don't exhibit a gregarious nature. Thank you for your comment!

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