“Hi, my name is Melissa and I’m an introvert.”
In America, being the quiet person in the room often means being discounted. At school, on the playground, or in the office, we are taught that if you want to be liked, if you want to matter, then you need to be outgoing. You need to be an extrovert. But what about the people who don’t work like that?
Susan Cain explores what it is to be one of these counter-culture people in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I use the phrase “counter-culture” quite deliberately because Cain seems to suggest that introverts should unite and subdue the world with their listening.
The introvert, Cain argues, is the person in the room who is invested in listening. While there are many definitions of what introversion is (including a few out there which suggest it to be pathological), Cain sticks pretty safely to the Jungian idea of an introvert: someone who is drawn to the world of thought and feeling and recharges by being alone.
Without the introverts of the world, Cain proposes, we would be without the theory of gravity, Peter Pan, The Cat in the Hat, Google, or Harry Potter. So why is our American and Western culture so bent upon relegating introverts to the kiddy table?
Cain starts the story with Dale Carnegie, the well-known creator of How to Win Friends and Influence People, who helped to shape the 20th century conversation to a culture of personality. The “mighty likeable fellow” is the current, accepted ideal of leadership. But while Cain sees the advent of this to be explainable, the results are baffling to her.
Systematically, she pulls apart the preconceptions that business schools use around the country (in particular, she points a very glaring finger at Harvard), argues that collaboration can kill creativity when it results in Groupthink, and hypothesizes that Wall Street tanked because people who kept talking and who weren’t watching were at the wheel.
Quiet is meticulously researched and reads like the more entertaining variety of non-fiction as part memoir and part exposé. At times, Cain’s suggestion that introverts may have the power to bring harmony to the world seems a bit forced. But, once you start reading, you must keep reading until Part Four. In the last section of the book Cain gets to the meat of her arguments: while introverts may adapt to the dominant culture, they should retain the essential nature of who they are and how they listen. There is power in quiet.
Now, don’t take my seeming complacency for derision. As I hinted at the beginning I, too, am an introvert. Because I have learned to live in an extroverted culture, I so often forget that some of the people around me are introverts, too. Our brains work differently. I get so caught up in doing the talking—to be the well-thought of person in the room—that I forget the power of my own quiet. If you think you might know a couple of introverts (and they are at least one-third of the population), then Quiet may read like a roadmap. If you are an introvert, it may just be short of a revelation.
- Susan Cain’s TED talk on introversion
- Cain’s New York Times article on “The Rise of the New Groupthink”
- Cain speaking with Steve Kraske on Up To Date
About the Author
Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.