Wednesday, March 28, 2012
QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
An exploration of the role of introverts in a culture that celebrates extroversion.
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 Power of Introverts website. There's an awesome TED talk here.
$12.99 for the Kindle edition
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?