The Power to Permanently Change of Introverts in Quiet

Did you know, at least one-third of the people we know are introverts? They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

Although America is considered a culture valuing rugged individualism, there was once a period in its history where having a good character (with traits such as citizenship, duty, manners and morals) was prized. One's behavior mattered more than one's "image." Then came the Culture of Personality and what Susan Cain, author of "Quiet" calls the Extravert Ideal. Now it was important to have high self-esteem, stand out in the right ways, and be gregarious. An "inferiority complex," was to be avoided at all costs. Dale Carnegie, who transformed himself from a shy, awkward farm boy to a dynamic public speaking icon, embodied this new ideal.

Susan Cain's "Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" puts the spotlight on sensitive, serious, thoughtful, and reticent people. Using data from numerous sources and citing studies and experiments conducted by a variety of researchers, Cain explores the history of extroversion/introversion, discusses the nature vs. nurture controversy, and clearly explains how the cult of personality evolved over time. Introverts, Cain asserts, are sometimes overshadowed and/or intimidated by more outgoing individuals who enjoy being the center of attention, are eager to express themselves, and may sometimes act quickly and impulsively. In fact, the author states that "introversion ... is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology."

It isn't easy being an introvert. Susan Cain knows this and has written a very compelling book about why the world needs us, even if it doesn't think so! "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" is a very interesting study of the differences between introverts and extroverts and how we balance each other. She examines when the world started to view extroversion as the ideal and some of the negative consequences of that. She also looked at some of the ways introverts try to make themselves appear more extroverted.

In doing research for this book, Cain attended a Tony Robbins seminar designed to help people be more successful in business and in life. Honestly, just reading about it made this introvert tired! Yet, introverts can be leaders, too, and Cain explains how to use our strengths to be effective in leadership roles.

She also examines how today's classrooms are designed to support extroverts with lots of group learning. While that in itself isn't a bad thing, Cain explores why students need independent learning as well. In fact, contrary to popular belief, she offers creativity actually thrives on independent pursuit rather than group brainstorming.

Why should we care whether or not extroversion has become "an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform"? Cain insists that this issue matters, for a variety of reasons. First of all, if they are not stifled, introverts can make important contributions from which we may all profit. Cain lists a few luminaries (Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Gandhi, among others) who achieved great things in spite (or because of) their tendency "to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them." Talented women like Susan Cain herself, a self-described introvert, have struggled when competing with their flashier and more gregarious counterparts. We must be especially careful to nurture subdued boys and girls who may be left behind, or even bullied, by their classmates. Teachers may be tempted to criticize these students for not speaking up more in class. Parents of an introvert should visit the school and ask their child's teacher to give her the support and encouragement that she needs. In addition, "Quiet" is filled with practical advice. Cain insists that with careful planning and by making certain adjustments, reticent people can remain true to themselves yet also succeed both personally and professionally.

"Quiet" is a wake-up call for all of us. In her lucidly written, well-organized, and compassionate book, Susan Cain eloquently states that we should respect, honor, and buoy up the introverts among us, instead of ignoring and marginalizing them. Introverts are found everywhere. They may be doctors, artists, composers, plumbers, teachers, accountants, or administrators. If someone prefers his own company, eschews small talk, avoids loud and crowded gatherings, and thinks before he speaks, he should receive as much respect and understanding as his flashier peers. Where do introverts fit in and what role do they play in a world that appears to value outgoing and expansive personalities? That is a question we should all ponder and discuss.