A Review of
Quiet: The Power of Introverts
in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Reviewed by Jessica A. Kent
Chances are, you’re probably familiar with the terms “introvert” and “extrovert.” Our tendency is to think of shyness and withdrawal when we think of an introvert, and a kind of robust people-person quality when we think of an extrovert. If you’ve taken any kind of personality test you’ll find yourself placed upon the introvert/extrovert spectrum somewhere. Or maybe you’ve heard that we each get “recharged” in our own way, some alone and some with others. In Susan Cain’s new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she goes about clarifying what we know about the introvert and extrovert personalities, adding cultural substance to the psychological definitions against which we frame ourselves.
Her book can be read as a study of what an introvert is and how they function, but Cain’s thesis is exceedingly more precise. As implied by the title, she goes about evaluating how culture – especially American culture – more readily accepts the extrovert ideal over the introvert’s offerings. Delving into examples from business, education, invention, sales, religion, and the creative arts, her book is like one of those pictures where you see a complete image, but upon closer inspection you see it is made up of smaller pictures. In order to create the large picture of societal introversion, she pieces together many different examples and stories.
The reader begins the book with the story of Rosa Parks, the quiet but steadfast initiator of the Civil Rights movement. Cain asks initial questions of the paradox of Rosa Parks: “Why shouldn’t quiet be strong? And what else does quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?” Introverts may be quiet, but they possess a set of skills that extroverts do not. They tend to be very good thinkers, and will go very deep very quickly in a one-on-one conversation. They tend to work best alone, without any distractions, and she uses Apple’s Stephen Wozniak as an example of a man who brilliantly forwarded computer technology by working alone. Introverts also experience sensory stimulation differently than extroverts, which accounts for why they enjoy quiet places and little commotion. The traits of introversion also breed more creative individuals, as “introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation. … If this is true – if solitude is an important key to creativity – then we might all want to develop a taste for it. We’d want to teach our kids to work independently. We’d want to give employees plenty of privacy and autonomy. Yet increasingly we do just the opposite.”
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