Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts…

This post was written for This Low Carbon Life.

For the past week I have, uncharacteristically, been racing through a book, not able to put it down.  That book is “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain, who I first heard of from this TEDTalk, and just happened to notice the book on the shelf in a bookshop when I was passing through town.

As an introvert myself, I have always been acutely aware of the fact that our culture is built on the “Extrovert Ideal”, and all the effects that has had on my life. Despite introverted activities having as much value to society as extroverted ones, a higher value is consistently placed on extroverted activities both in the workplace and within schools.  You will be hard-pushed to find a job description that does not ask for “teamwork” and “communication” as essential skills, but are unlikely to find one that demands more introverted traits such as reserve and sensitivity, even when they would be advantageous to the role.

The first three chapters (Part One) explore this “Extrovert Ideal”, how it came about, and the effect it has had on individuals and on society as a whole, whilst the rest of the book looks at how introverts came to be the way they are, and what tools the introvert can use to understand themselves and extroverts better, and live happier and more fulfilling lives as a result.

The book, reminiscent of Tracy Chapman’s song “Talking about a revolution” (which insists that it “sounds like a whisper”), gives numerous examples of people who have changed the world, not despite, but often partly aided by, their quiet and sensitive nature. Such people include Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt (who stood up for the misrepresented when she was First Lady) and Rosa Parks (an African-American civil rights activist). By being quiet and reflective, we find, introverts are often much better at seeing the bigger picture, averse to high risk and better at activities that require a lot of solitary study and concentration.

Here are a few of the suggestions she gives for introverts:

Learn to be more vocal, but schedule in “restorative niches” too

Introverts can burn out if they try to go against their nature for too long (pseudo-extroversion), and although they may step out of their comfort zone for short periods and express themselves very well, they may need to recover by creating a “restorative niche”, where they can just “be themselves”.

Assume a soft leadership (where leadership is necessary)

Susan Cain suggests that introverts make good leaders when they preside over proactive people, whose strengths they can bring out, without stealing the lime-light, or stifling with top-down control.

Foster introverts’ creativity

Creativity is never produced by “groupthink”.  Original and creative ideas comes from a single mind, even when inspired by external events or other people’s less-developed theories. Situations where creativity will come out won’t be big parties or social get-togethers (however fun these may be), but quiet moments where ideas can float freely, leaving you with plenty of time to think around and develop your own ideas and solutions. (I consider this blog to be a great opportunity for me to get my creative juices flowing, to explore and express my ideas.)

There’s one little quote from the book which I want to leave you with, in support of blogging:

The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.

If only my readership were quite at the two million mark!

An extra notes on political movements

Transition, I feel, is an introverted movement, in that its focus is not on simply communicating (like the Occupy movement), but is contemplative and about getting stuff done even when the movement is misunderstood or not accepted by society as a whole.  This, I feel, is a great character trait, because Transition doesn’t just pander to people for the sake of pleasing them (as governments do, most of the time), nor does it try to be controlling or aggressive.

However, along with the positive character traits, there are negative ones. The Transition movement, like introverts, has a small number of dedicated friends, but often gets lost in large crowds, and sometimes finds it difficult to make itself heard over the more assertive members of society, such as banks and corporations (the book suggests, indirectly, that the financial recessions of both the dot-com bubble and those more recently were caused, at least in part, by extroverts taking disproportionate risks whilst ignoring the warning by introverts (such as Warren Buffett), who, being risk-averse, had looked ahead, and saw financial crises in the making).

The Transition movement, therefore, and its members (particularly the more introverted ones), would do well to take a leaf or two out of this book

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2 Comments

  1. alison
    Posted 23 April, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I think that Mark Zimmerman of Facebook fame is a good example of this. He had few friends, but created a social media where he could have many and never have to blush.
    Great piece of writing on something we don’t usually discuss, but surrounds all of us everyday.

  2. Posted 23 April, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I take it you mean Mark Zuckerberg. But yes, he is an example. The author actually gives many other examples from the world of social media and computing – Craig Newmark, founder of Craiglist; Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple; the people behind Mashable – they were all introverts, and she explains how their introversion put them in such a good position to be social media entrepreneurs. She also says why such “networking” has failed to transfer to face-to-face business. Why, for example, open plan offices are ineffective at enhancing productivity, despite the idea being that everyone sharing the same office space was supposed to lead to a quicker and better transfer of ideas.

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