In a world where fortune supposedly favours the bold, why is it that men of thought – rather than action – are often looked down upon? That is the question Susan Cain seeks to answer in her New York Times bestselling Psychology book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. A self-confessed introvert, Cain explores the tendency of our society to exalt what she deems “the Extrovert Ideal,” while the value of thinkers is often overlooked. While it would appear apparent that the tendency to think before speaking should be applauded rather than chastised, Cain discusses how our society has shifted to favour those who are exuberantly confident – even if falsely so.
Considering the idea that many past problems – including the 2008 Wall Street Crash – could have been prevented had people been less willing to celebrate risk-taking behaviour masked by a pretense of extroverted certainty, Cain’s theories are incredibly relevant. With a plethora of case studies interspersed with anecdotes from Cain’s own life, Quiet never ceases to offer discerning conclusions as to the nature of the society in which we live.
The examples of the Extrovert Ideal Cain examines vary from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Harvard Business School to the founding of Apple. Also devoting a chapter to Asian cultures, which generally value introversion deeply, Cain describes how Asian students often feel displaced in the Western World. Cain’s life itself is oddly intriguing; despite being the quintessential introvert, she studied law at Harvard and then became a Wall Street lawyer. She then left her job in order to research material for her book, a seven year period she calls “total bliss.” Given the publishing of Quiet, Cain was also forced to face her fear of public speaking in order to publicize the book.
While acknowledging that extroversion is indeed associated with several positive qualities, including sociability and assertiveness, Cain also seeks to point out its flaws, which are easily overlooked in our society. For example, in the business world, false confidence is often more heavily valued than actual knowledge. Cain cites a study in which a commentator’s confident declarations were more inaccurate than if an individual had guessed the conditions randomly. Furthermore, Cain explores the positive characteristics of introverts that are often stifled due to the structure of our working environments. Introverts are by nature reflective and analytical, valuing time spent alone. Considering that introverts often feel more productive in tranquil atmospheres, societal adaptations suited to extroverted personalities can be detrimental. The increasing focus on group work in schools, and forced collaboration in offices, can often impede on an individual’s ability to concentrate. While introverts may have ideas that are of equal or better quality to those of their extroverted counterparts, the person who appears the most confident is too often the one rewarded with the gifts of acknowledgment and praise. This trend is often hurtful to introverts, as they can dislike drawing attention to themselves. Given that one third to one half of our population is comprised of introverts, the undervaluing of their positive qualities equates to denying multiple forms of progression.
Ultimately, Cain strives to assert that both extroverts and introverts are essential to our world, and therefore, both must be valued. The interplay between the differing strengths and weaknesses of extroverts and introverts is necessary, and it is through the recognition of this symbiotic relationship that schools can become more facilitating, workplaces more efficient, and the world increasingly tolerant. Some ideas in the book seemed to be mere common sense, and it was slightly disappointing to think that such ideas are so easily overlooked today. A particular strength of Cain’s is her incorporation of psychological terms and theories often learned by undergraduate students, lending an intellectual quality to the book. Despite its seeming like a mini textbook on the extroversion-introversion spectrum, Quiet is remarkably readable. As an introvert myself, I found Quiet to be extremely validating and incredibly insightful. And for that reason, I give Quiet four stars out of five.
You can discover where you lie on the introversion-extroversion spectrum by taking the Jung Typology Test at http://www.humanmetrics.com/ cgi-win/jtypes1.htm. To watch a video of Susan Cain’s presentation at the TED2012 conference, visit http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/about-the-book/.