Book Review: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This book turned out to be well researched and to exceed my expectations. It helped me to better understand the world of introverts, myself and the world in general. So, according to the book, how exactly is the world shaped by the forces of introversion and extroversion?

Let’s start with the current status of the Western world: it’s competitive and it’s dominated by a “business culture” and a “personality culture” that replaced the old “culture of character”. In the older times characteristics such as modesty and simplicity were seen as desirable whereas in recent times the need to differentiate yourself and to entertain seems to have replaced the old values.

America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover. In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth. But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. “The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer,” Susman famously wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

The reality is that in such a business culture verbal fluency and sociability are the two most important predictors of success, according to a Stanford Business School study.

Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better-looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent—even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.

So what does this mean? Do introverts have no chances of succeeding in such an environment? It turns out that introverts have innate qualities that can help them succeed in places where extroverts can’t.

We tend to overestimate how outgoing leaders need to be. “Most leading in a corporation is done in small meetings and it’s done at a distance, through written and video communications,” Professor Mills told me. “It’s not done in front of big groups. You have to be able to do some of that; you can’t be a leader of a corporation and walk into a room full of analysts and turn white with fear and leave. But you don’t have to do a whole lot of it. I’ve known a lot of leaders of corporations who are highly introspective and who really have to make themselves work to do the public stuff.”

Grant says it makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words. In the T-shirt-folding study, the team members reported perceiving the introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder and to fold more shirts.

Introverts can focus and be better learners through Deliberate Practice:

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful—they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them.

Introverts also have the marks of what makes a deep person, they

tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions—sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.

It seems that the phenomena of introversion and extroversion is not specific only to humans, it’s also encountered throughout nature. In some conditions the introvert individuals of a species have better survival chances due to the fact that they are more reserved whereas in other conditions the extrovert individuals have better chances of survival.

But it turns out that it’s not only humans that divide into those who “watch and wait” and others who “just do it.” More than a hundred species in the animal kingdom are organized in roughly this way. From fruit flies to house cats to mountain goats, from sunfish to bushbaby primates to Eurasian tit birds, scientists have discovered that approximately 20 percent of the members of many species are “slow to warm up,” while the other 80 percent are “fast” types who venture forth boldly without noticing much of what’s going on around them.

Some differences between introverts and extroverts:

Or consider this trade-off: human extroverts have more sex partners than introverts do—a boon to any species wanting to reproduce itself—but they commit more adultery and divorce more frequently, which is not a good thing for the children of all those couplings. Extroverts exercise more, but introverts suffer fewer accidents and traumatic injuries. Extroverts enjoy wider networks of social support, but commit more crimes. As Jung speculated almost a century ago about the two types, “the one [extroversion] consists in a high rate of fertility, with low powers of defense and short duration of life for the single individual; the other [introversion] consists in equipping the individual with numerous means of self-preservation plus a low fertility rate.”

This blindness to danger may explain why extroverts are more likely than introverts to be killed while driving, be hospitalized as a result of accident or injury, smoke, have risky sex, participate in high-risk sports, have affairs, and remarry. It also helps explain why extroverts are more prone than introverts to overconfidence—defined as greater confidence unmatched by greater ability.

In Academia, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability.

The Free Trait Theory:

You might wonder how a strong introvert like Professor Little manages to speak in public so effectively. The answer, he says, is simple, and it has to do with a new field of psychology that he created almost singlehandedly, called Free Trait Theory. Little believes that fixed traits and free traits coexist. According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion, for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.”

Other subjects discussed in the book are: the cultural differences between the West and the East, High Self-Monitoring and Low Self-Monitoring, the relations between introverts and extroverts, how to motivate introverts, Jon Berghoff’s astonishing success at sales, how to deal with introverted children.

I have a bunch of notes taken but the best way to understand more about the fascinating world of introversion would be to just read the book because it’s definitely worth it.

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