Shhh – can you keep a secret? Ah forget it. I want to shout from the rooftops how much I loved Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. At a time when political discourse, health care and economic policy seems to be decided by who literally shouts the loudest while on TV, the radio, the pulpit or self-help seminar stage, Cain argues we need to rediscover the power of introverts.
Cain introduces her readers to a range of introverts who have found success by embracing who they are and granting themselves the tools necessary for introverts to succeed, including “restorative niches,” pursuit of a passion, and a safe way to express their ideas. Some are well-known, like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates; others are people who could by your neighbor or the shy girl in the back of the second grade classroom.
Adding weight to the argument for valuing introverts, Cain synthesizes scholarly works from a variety of fields and makes them accessible to the lay reader. I particularly enjoyed chapter 3 “When Collaboration Kills Creativity” and the discussion of the group think mentality. As someone who does a lot of reading, I can occasionally identify when manuscripts have been overworked in an effort to appease all the members of a crit-group. The result is an inauthentic and rarely enjoyable book. I hated doing group projects in school. When I led college level history discussion groups as a Teaching Assistant, I disliked giving those assignments. When I had my own class, I stopped them. If I had read Quiet while still in the classroom, it would have given me the courage to stop the useless practice earlier.
In “Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?” Cain pulled together complex debates in psychology, physiology and philosophy to address the nature versus nurture debate. As a parent and an introvert who must participate in the world outside my keyboard, I appreciated this section. In some ways, she was “preachin’ to the choir” when I read this section. I wonder what the extroverts I know thought of this section. The fourth section offered practical tips for introverts negotiating an extrovert dominant culture.
As much as I loved this book, “Part Three: do all Cultures have an Extrovert Ideal?” tempered my enthusiasm. I found this section which contrasted an introverted ideal Asian cultures with Western and particularly American thinking to be weak compared to the rest of the book. Cain relied more on evidence from literature and one can be highly selective when picking and chosing proverbs. For each saying from the west like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” it’s easy to find a common phrase that reflects what Cain posits is an Asian ideal. However, since you catch more flies with honey, I’ll get back to the positive.
Quiet is an important book and well deserving of its place on the New York Times best seller list. For those I know who have read it, it’s sparked a number of discussion points. It’s changed the way I look at the world and that is no small feat. The people I know who are most enthusiastic about reading this are all introverts. I wish more extroverts could be convinced to pick up the book. Perhaps with enough general discussion, they will be forced to do so. This is one conversation not to be left out of.