I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading Susan Cain’s book. “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” – it is that kind of book. Mind you, it may only be that kind of book when you’re an introvert who suddenly understands the world around you in a much better way.
We were raised with the thought that being introverted wasn’t quite right and in order to get ahead, we had to work in teams, learn to speak in public (I still remember Jane almost taking out the aquarium when she fainted during public school speaking practice) and other speak out, stand up for yourself lessons. The cult of personality is strong in North America today when we pick our leaders based on their outgoing personality and not their talent at solving problems. We live in a society where our cultural icons are not great thinkers or those who act for the greater good, but rather we adore movie stars who can play other people and we set them up as thought leaders and want to be just like them. Open office structures, team meetings, sales training, multi-tasking, you name it. It’s all worship at the door of extroversion.
Author Susan Cain explains the biology shared with a surprisingly large number of animals where introversion is a survival trait, and one equally important to extroversion. For example, in African gazelles, the extroverted animals lead the herd out to the grasslands while the introverts stand back waiting on the edges of the protective bush. When times are good, the extroverts get more grass, are bigger and healthier and the predators feed on the lagging introverts. When the grass is poor and herds are struggling, the first out to the field get attacked by predators who are equally struggling. The introverts are then left to feed, prosper and multiply. The swing in grass production in weather cycles ensures one group doesn’t come to dominate and the existence of two different behaviour patterns ensures the herd continues to exist.
Cain also points out the physiological differences between introverts and extroverts, how nerves fire quicker or slower, how skin is actually thinner (extroverts want us to develop “thicker skin” for a reason as it turns out) and reaction to stimuli is physiologically different. And it turn out humans are as equally split between risk taking and risk aversion patterns as those gazelles. Hint: Which group do you think were bankers who crashed our economic system in 2008?
Cain points out that our society valuing extroversion is a change in behavior created when industrialization changed North America from a rural agrarian society to an industrialized one. Those that prospered in this new society needed new skills and people such as Dale Carnegie (How to Make Friends Etc) or groups such as Toastmasters were the new gurus to lead us into this brave new world. The loss of the power of introversion – of deep thinking and analysis – is then felt in the bones of our very culture. Hint: which behavior pattern do you think dominates in political circles and why are you surprised when deep thinking is not encourage by politicians? Why selling an idea is more important than having one?
The power of the book for me doesn’t come because of any prescription for behavior change (this is not a self-help book although those are written to “help” the 30 to 40% of us who are introverts become more extroverted) but rather from understanding that introversion doesn’t necessarily mean “shy”. And that being introverted might actually be a benefit in modern publishing (who knew!)
Should you read this book? Given that (at least) 30-40% of the people you know even including your significant other, children, relatives and co-workers are introverts, it would be very good to understand what makes them tick. If you are an introvert, you’ll get that right away. If you’re an extrovert, understanding the introverts around you will make you that much more efficient at what you do.
Yeah, you should read this book.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Amazon affiliate link)