Book Review: Quiet
Posted July 28, 2013on:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, Crown, 2012, EPUB file (368 pages in paperback).
I did much better in my second choice for an e-book. I had been curious to read Quiet since it was published and I had heard multiple good reports about it from friends and from NPR. As an introvert myself, I was intrigued by the popularity of this book. I have read plenty of things about the differences between being an introvert and an extrovert, so I wasn’t that interested in discovering more about what it’s like to be me.
What is unique about Cain’s book are the new studies from neuroscientists about the brain patterns of introverts, and her analysis of the privileging of extroverted behavior in our culture. Cain begins with identifying what she calls the “Extrovert Ideal,” which she traces to the beginning of the 20th century. The Culture of Character (which valued seriousness, hard work, discipline and honor) became replaced by a Culture of Personality.
When they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who are bold and entertaining. “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” (Warren) Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.” (21)
Leadership and social capital now comes from likability and gregariousness. Cain uses the self-help culture influenced by Dale Carnegie and the culture at Harvard Business School as primary examples of how we privilege extroversion and extroverted behavior. She then proceeds to make the case for the values introverts bring to the table–especially a capacity for new and innovative ideas.
New research shows that groups working together are not nearly as creative as individuals left to work alone. Open workplaces, group brainstorming and team retreats are not effective at producing innovative ideas, because a person (introvert or extrovert) needs space to think alone before thinking with the group. She also examines the way Asian culture still values more introverted traits, and what the experience of Asians in America is around those concerns. Introverts process dopamine differently than extroverts, which means they feel less “buzz” in response to stimuli. That means they tend to be “cool” and guided by inner rewards rather than external ones. This means they can bring perspective, patience and measured reactions to an organization.
The style of Quiet reminded me a lot of Malcolm Gladwell’s work, with its quick and compelling prose and vast approach to the subject, ranging from neuroscience to popular culture to business to personal interviews. It was an enjoyable and entertaining read, with some ideas I may be able to take with me.