Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
By: Susan Cain
Modern American society is largely built for extroverts. The loudest are listened to, the boldest, promoted in their careers. But extroversion doesn’t inherently equate to competency or likability, yet it is still rewarded, professionally and socially. Author and self-described introvert Susan Cain dives deep into the personality traits of introversion and extroversion in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, unpacking the cultural onset and implications of a society that, by and large, demands introverts conform to the practices of extroverts, or be left behind.
Quiet is not a condemnation of extroverts themselves, but of what Cain calls the “Extrovert Ideal…the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.” The opening chapter charts a shift from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality” at the turn of the twentieth century, with the bombardment of advertisements and self-help books sharply focused on the outward presentation of self.
She’s identified what can be at times, an inherent negative implication of introversion. From the outwardly confident Harvard Business School students she interviewed, who practically scoffed at the idea of finding an introvert on campus, or the extreme jubilance promoted by a larger-than-life self-help guru, Tony Robbins, extroversion is how you win at life.
Cain adamantly rejects this and weaves research of case studies and anecdotes to paint a hopeful picture of the value of introverts, and the equal potential they possess to be effective leaders. Her background is in corporate law, where she herself practiced using the skills commonly found in introverts, like staying calm, and taking a moment to think before speaking, to bolster her way through the tense negotiations cacophonous to her softer temperament.
To successfully deconstruct contemporary work and education environments (pre-pandemic), Cain introduces the concept of “Deliberate Practice,” which generally requires solitude to breed an intense focus, ripe for inspiration. With open offices designed for easy collaboration, and classroom desks arranged in pods, employees and students alike are forced together, she argues, under the misguided idea group think is more propitious. Otherwise, well-performing students receive the tired note of needing to improve participation in group discussion, but it is precisely that time spent in their own minds, that may bring them the most success. Cain offers the high-profile example
of Stephen Wozniak, electrical engineer and co-founder of Apple, who spent much of his time tinkering in isolation to the great benefit of the development of his craft.
What is missing in Cain’s analysis, is the exploration of ambiversion, the gray area of personality, exhibiting near-equal traits to that of introverts and extroverts. Ambiverts perhaps do enjoy a large social gathering, but only for so long, or may not hesitate to use their voices, but would be drained afterward. She identifies throughout, the intersections of introverts and extroverts, that align with that of ambiversion, but besides a one-line mention, it is not explored further. While intentionally careful not to precisely define terms, Cain then becomes too loose at times, making sweeping generalizations and broadening her interpretation of introversion, so much so, that it is portrayed as far more fluid than she expressly admits, bleeding into the middle ground of ambiversion which she has otherwise left behind.
And what Cain ultimately advocates for is balance: balance in schools, at the office, and at home. To recognize that strengths come in many forms, to appreciate diversity in how individuals operate, and to create accommodations accordingly. Quiet is just as valuable for those seeking validation of their inward ways, as it is for families, educators, and employers in understanding and supporting the introverts in their lives.
About the Author:
Susan Cain is a writer and public speaker. Her work on introversion has been featured in The New York Times and PsychologyToday.com. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Cain practiced corporate law for seven years, where she had to confront the barriers of her own introversion and embrace its power.