This book, “Quiet” by Susan Cain, sub-titled “The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” is a very interesting read on the subject of introverts. It uses a mix of science, psychology and personal stories to explore what introversion is and isn’t, and what are the relative strengths and weaknesses of introverts compared to extroverts. It’s great to have a whole book dedicated to this topic, as it affects so much of our lives but with little accessible writing on it.
Cain traces the start of what she calls the extrovert ideal, that view in today’s society that it is good to be extrovert, to the early 1900s, with the Age of Personality. Preceding this, the Age of Character emphasised quiet and good behaviour, and was appropriate given people loved in smaller towns where families knew each other for generations. As people moved to cities and became strangers without any reference point, selling yourself and this age of personality took over; this also came about with idolisation of movie stars. This time also saw self help books changing from helping your character to being a more extroverted personality.
She goes on to investigate three current examples of the extrovert ideal. The first was the Harvard business school, where there is a very strong emphasis on group activities and extroversion, although Cain also notes there are many successful introvert leaders in business, and introverts can be very effective when they can encourage those below them to take initiative. She also visits Saddleback Evangelical church, and a seminar by Tony Robbins. She particularly focuses on meeting introverts in these places and seeing what they can learn and what challenges they face.
Going on, she explores various topics including solitude. First in reference to creativity, she notes that creativity comes to people alone and not in groups. For example, she references some studies on Brainstorming which show that in groups, brainstorming produces fewer and less good ideas than when those same people come up with ideas individually. She then goes onto look at expertise, and referencing Anders Ericsson’s work showing that expertise comes through deliberate practice, which is done most in solitude where the focus is on yourself alone. As an aside, I found these interesting conclusions and surely in line with The Fountainhead which I recently finished.
Cain also notes areas where introverts are typically stronger. These include better problem solving, and tending to have greater persistence with difficult tasks. Extroverts typically prefer speed over intricacy. While I am an introvert, I think I am more like an extrovert in this respect at least.
A couple of other examples she gives show the need for both introverts and extroverts to work together: How well Rosa Park, an introvert, partnered with Martin Luther King, an extrovert, in the civil rights movement; and she also describes one weekend at a conference with almost all introvert, and how there is a very deep conversation, but missing the spark that you would get from some extroverts.
I heard about this book as it was recommended for reading if bringing up an introverted child, and it has a section on this topic at the end. The book emphasises that we should embrace the child’s personality, and not follow the cultural extrovert ideal of thinking that all children should be outgoing and popular. It’s sad to read about some parents thinking there is something wrong with their children, when they are just an introvert. However Cain does also advise that we should support and teach children to get by in social situations and overcome their fears.