on 21 May 2014
In many ways, this is the sort of book that should be read by anyone who manages other people, including those who are responsible for children's education, because it goes a long way towards clearing introverts of the charges that are often laid against them - that they're aloof, unfriendly, unwilling to speak up, no good at giving presentations, etc. These are all things that can disadvantage the introvert who is, for example, being interviewed for a job or asking for a promotion.
The problem is, I think the people who are most likely to read it are introverted types who just want a bit of reassurance that there isn't actually anything wrong with them. That's a shame, because even though the book does that job very well, it could have a wider application. I only found out about it myself because I kept seeing it recommended on online forums when this specific topic was actually being discussed. Maybe the introverts of the world should start a campaign to make this book compulsary reading for anyone who has to work with other people...
To answer the criticism that this is a US-centric book and not as relevant to readers in the UK: think for a minute about the last time you saw an office which had separate rooms or cubicles for workers instead of an open plan layout; think about how many times at school or university (or indeed at work) you were told to "get into groups" to work on a problem that you could have solved by yourself; think about how many job adverts you've seen for roles which have no customer contact at all and yet demand that applicants must be "outgoing" or "lively" or similarly ghastly wording. The truth is that the Extrovert Ideal has encroached on UK society as well, however temperamentally unsuited we Brits might be! Susan Cain provides some welcome balance and sanity in a world where everyone seems to be trying to shout louder than everyone else.
Throughout my life I have had well meaning people telling me I should want to socialise all the time and that there is something wrong with me because I would almost always prefer to be curled up at home with a book. I have always had to battle for my quiet time against my nearest and dearest who think I should want to be with them. If I spend too much time with other people I start to lose sight of who I am and I have to spend a few hours by myself to recharge my batteries.
This is something I've always known about myself. When I first heard the word `introvert' and understood its meaning I knew it applied to me. But being an introvert was something that you just didn't talk about because being the life and soul of the party was the ideal. To get on at work and in life you need to be outgoing and willing to spend all your time talking to other people. The Western world values extroversion and introverts don't count partly because it is difficult for them to make themselves heard.
The book discusses research in the field and how the quality of introversion is displayed in the world. I found it fascinating to read about those who predicted the last recession and who said that what the banks were doing was extremely risky. Banks were staffed by extroverts who liked taking risks and they didn't want to listen to the quiet people sitting in the corner poring over graphs, charts and figures and predicting doom and gloom. What this book shows is that we need both introverts and extroverts to get a balance between excessive risk and excessive caution.
I was intrigued to learn that it is not only human beings who are introverts or extroverts, animals and even fish have those qualities too. Guppies which live in areas of rivers where Pike feed have different personalities from those who live in the same rivers in places where Pike don't swim. If one type of Guppy moves from one area to another it takes about twenty years for their personalities to change as personality traits in Guppies seem to be inherited. In some circumstances introversion is a trait which is necessary for survival as it imbues caution and careful assessment of risk - in this case Pike swimming by and looking for a tasty meal.
Various studies have been carried out which show that introverts engaged on creative work do a lot better if they are allowed to work on their own in peace and quiet rather than being forced to work in an open plan office. Yet the trend is for everyone to work in open plan offices. Some companies are gradually realising they need to provide both environments for their staff so that people who need peace and quiet to do their best work can find space to shut themselves away from the crowd.
This book is well written and an interesting and lively read for anyone who is an introvert or who lives or works with introverts. I found it a fascinating and thought provoking read - most especially the chapter on bringing up naturally introverted children. I found myself wanting to stand up and scream `YES YES YES' at the top of my voice as I recognised myself in so many of the examples quoted. The extrovert ideal of the Western world is not the ideal in the East where courtesy, quiet behaviour and deference to other people are regarded as admirable qualities. Maybe I need to go and live in China or India to be valued.
Written by an introvert mainly for introverts, this is a good mix of research, reflection, anecdotes and advice that's also obviously quite a personal work for the author. It's well written, definitely thoroughly researched though at times feels like she's trying to justify the introvert's way of being rather than overtly celebrate it - perhaps just a reflection of the subtext of the book!
As someone who's clearly been a life-long introvert and also an experiences personality and psychometric profiler I was curious to see what the author's take would be on the introvert vs. extrovert debate. My impression is that she's writing from the point of view of an introvert who found herself vying for a place in an extrovert's world who then discovered more and more people like her. She refers to the 'Extrovert Ideal' a lot which seems to be a reflection of the fact she's US-based and statistically this is a more extrovert nation and culture with around 65% of the population measuring as extroverts, casting introverts into the minority. However, for the UK reader it might be a little trickier to identify so intensely with her experience as in the UK the population is split almost evenly.
My guess is that this book is more likely to be read by more introverted souls seeking to understand themselves and their power better - and I'll be recommending it to some of my friends! It would be a shame for the extroverts of the world to miss out on getting to grips with what's actually happening beneath the calmer, quieter, more placid surfaces of some of their family, friends and colleagues, and I'll be recommending that those friends then pass it on to the extroverts in their lives!
What I liked about 'Quiet' was:
- it's not a psychology text book and is more deeply personal, sharing people's experiences
- for those who are unfamiliar with what introversion is and the reality of the 'inner world' experience, it serves as a great introduction, whether you are an introvert or work with or live with one or more
- there's plenty of good research quoted to back up the author's reflections, ideas and recommendations
- it's written in an engaging and approachable style with no hyperbole or self-aggrandisement, unlike some self-help literature
- although she could rage against the glorification of the extrovert ideal, she doesn't
My criticisms (if you can call them that) are:
- it is definitely written from the 'introverts are the minority' point of view which in the UK isn't true in general, though certainly is true of some professions
- she has a very wide definition of the behaviours and preferences linked to introversion, some of which I don't wholly agree with and isn't used by the psychological community at large
All in all I found it to be a solid, informative and well-written exposition of the true, if quiet, power of introverts.
on 20 December 2013
As an introvert, it's nice to see someone take a serious look at how society underestimates quiet originality in favor of the bombastic and banal. When I was a kid, I was such a bookworm that my parents would sometimes make a rule that I had to spend "x" amount of time each day playing with other kids. It would have been nice to have a book like this as a resource back then.
Cain describes how introverts differ psychologically and neurologically from extroverts. The science can get a little dense at times, but the author does a good job of getting to the meat of the studies and drawing out the practical implications for individuals and for society as a whole. She discusses how educators go wrong by placing too much emphasis on group learning as opposed to individual investigation, and how employers can benefit from understanding and accommodating their more introverted employees.
There are some great case studies of quiet individuals who have managed to make a place for themselves in professions that require a high degree of exposure and sociability--Rock star professors and sales people who you'd never suspect of being introverts. Cain makes the point that the key is to know your nature and your limitations and develop strategies to work within your boundaries. For example, introverts who have to speak in public may benefit from checking out the venue ahead of time so they know what to expect and perhaps identify places where they can be alone for a few minutes before hitting the stage. Or, if you need to attend networking events and hate small talk, what is the minimum number you can get away with and still benefit professionally?
For readers comfortable with a pronounced academic slant to their non-fiction, this is a useful and informative work. To be honest, even if you skip over the scientific studies, there's a lot of value here.
on 24 October 2014
An easy and entertaining read with a mixture of facts, examples, science and humour. I didn't check the validity of her references though, so I won't comment on the truthfulness of those facts and science bits. But this book helped me look into myself and understand a solid part of me.
Although people are extremely different and not all introverts share the same qualities so some places I didn't quite connect to, especially when all her examples include all these successful lawyers, business men and people who love what they are doing. I was looking for advice or tips on how to actually fit into this society that worships extroverts. Many introverts, including me, are so introverted that they don't have any particular field they are interested in working in. That, or the field is so narrow that getting a job in it is really unlikely, unless you have a qualification or the money to get one.
Even in UK you need to be bubbly and excited about selling a pair of socks.
I didn't find any helpful advice or insight into how to deal the pressure of working at an average job for your average introverted Joe. Sure I now see my strengths and know that I'm not crazy for being introverted. But in reality it's very difficult to adapt even knowing your strengths. Wearing the extrovert mask is what I do. But it tends to fall off. The answer to how to function in this society is probably to change oneself so that you fit into the standard, so that you become another number in the statistics. But the author of this book says you need to accept yourself and be OK with who you are. How do you combine being who you are, at a job you don't love and where you need to be fake?
on 31 March 2014
My 19 year old daughter recently asked what her hobbies were. I said, "Your friends are your hobbies". She looked at me like only 19 year olds can look at their mums. But it is true - her reason for being is her interactions with other people, preferably not old(er) ones like me. Based on an informal 20 question questionnaire on page 10 of this book she is almost 100% the perfect extrovert. Me, on the other hand, I am 70% introvert, and now that I know this, it explains all sorts of things about me. Unlike my lively daughter who needs to get her batteries charged from the energy of others, I need to get my batteries charged from not being with others, from being by myself. Finally I understand now why I don't like crowds, why I don't like going to parties or gatherings where I don't know people, why I am not the world's most natural and spontaneous entertainer, why I let the phone go to voice mail, why I enjoy writing so much, why sitting at home on New Year's Eve with mushrooms on toast, a bottle of bubbles and TV makes me feel so good! And it has been done more than once.
Even though this book is about whether you are one or the other, the author makes very clear at both the beginning and the end, that introversion/extroversion personality analysis is one of many tools and theories out there, and often it seems in conjunction with other theories too. So, as with all this stuff, it is all very interesting and useful and probably helpful to self understanding but not necessarily the gospel truth.
The author is a self proclaimed introvert, hence her interest in the subject. Her main argument in this book is that the world we live in, ie the current Western orientation to the Cult of Personality rather than the Cult of Character of perhaps 150 years ago does not suit the more introverted personality, which could be anywhere from a third to half the population. Think back to when you were at high school - who were the popular kids? Was it the science nerds? Was it those who spent their lunch hours in the library? Was it those who played solitary or individual sports like chess or fencing or even badminton? No of course it wasn't! It was the rugby boys, the girls who swanned around after them in packs, the kids that took the risks like smoking, drinking, having sex. The ones whose style of dress the rest of us tried to follow. The cool kids. Perhaps this is seen no more clearly than in her chapter on the differences between Asian students and non Asian students at American high school and universities.
The book is full of explaining all these sorts of differences and whether we are actually born with tendencies towards introvesion/extroversion; how our upbringing and early life shapes us; how survival of the fittest is not necessarily survival of the loudest or the strongest; cultural differences; the effect the Cult of Personality had on the Global Financial Crisis; how as parents we can help our children who may not be so out there as us or their siblings, and even in our relationships where we can see and be understanding of our differences. And much more.
I have got so much out of this book, and it really does make me feel much more comfortable in my skin. Now I know why I used to howl my lungs out at the top of the sand dunes faced with all that ocean and noise. Why I was one of only two kids on 11 year old camp that wouldn't do the abseiling. And why I love books, reading and doing these book reviews!
Susan Cain presented a wonderful speech to the TED conference regarding the difficulties faced by introverts in a world that prizes extroverts. Both have strengths and weaknesses, but education systems and working styles have become geared to the extrovert skill set, to the point where introversion is seen as an undesirable weakness, almost a mental illness, and must be overcome. It's acceptable to spend 4 hours in a meeting with 20 people achieving nothing, but not to sit on your own for half an hour and complete the work from start to finish.
Susan's 20 minute speech was fascinating and I eagerly awaited her book, but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed now it's here.
Part autobiography, part social commentary, the book adds very little to Susan's TED presentation. If anything, it detracts from it. The book is directly written for the American audience - American people talking about American research and life in America, so by the end of was craving something with a wider net of references.
The practical advice to introverts is interesting, but mainly because it acknowledges that constant exposure to extrovert behaviour can be damaging to someone more introverted (been there!), but could you really afford to turn down a job because the desk layout wasn't right for your introvert needs? Do you really have a paediatrician recommended `engagement skills' group that your nervous toddler can attend?
As someone who's more introvert than extrovert, the book made me feel a little hopeless, rather than a little empowered.
For anyone who's ever wondered whether their choice to get an early night, rather than go out and party, really does lead to a diagnosis of social phobia, low self-esteem and childhood confidence failure, Susan's work is liberation. But I'd recommend taking 20 minutes to watch her full TED presentation rather than buying the book.
(Small NB - the book cover is white and porous. After half a day in a bag the book's ruined.)
In `Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking', introvert ex-corporate lawyer, Susan Cain, describes and illustrates a body of mostly US-centric research into personality types, which she divides into introverts and extroverts. Throughout the book, she weaves in her personal tales of inner transformation once she takes on board both the strengths and weaknesses of being an introvert, growing up and working in an American culture that appears to value and reward extrovert behaviour above all.
In the two and a half page conclusion of the book, she summarises maybe all you need to know about the strategies that introverts can adopt to take full advantage of their strengths (measured decision-making; empathy; analysis of situations based on sustained observation and reflection; intuition; ethical stances; preference for deep and meaningful social contacts; love of quiet and replenishing spaces etc).
Susan Cain comes across as sincere, sensitive, thoughtful and brave - as one might expect from her description of the typical introvert nature. She argues passionately that introverts, including those who come to the USA from a more culturally-introverted country, feel criticised and undervalued for being the way they are - shyness, sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as being negatives.
In some social and educational contexts, introversion is even seen as a kind of mental illness or learning disadvantage that must be cured. The author in fact acknowledges that constant exposure to extrovert behaviour; the pressure to perform in an inauthentic and pretend-extrovert manner; or just to `fit in' to a brash, noisy, insensitive world can be physically and emotionally damaging to someone more introverted.
The language and tone used in the book is that of American popular psychology and, as such, may grate on the European or British reader. Moreover, as most of the named people, cultural references, research and contexts mentioned are US-centric, I found this book somewhat frustrating. I hesitated between giving the book 3 or 4 stars, but recognise that introverts, like myself, need all the encouragement they can get!
on 15 June 2013
As a child I was always quiet, I was considered strange, the outcast by others around me. I would, and still do, experience overwhelming shyness when forced into situations where talking loudly is expected. I would keep my thoughts to myself, not risk being shouted down be the rest of the group. Even now, as an adult, I prefer not to speak up in front groups of three or more people. I think my words through many times before uttering them.
For the majority of my live, I have wondered why. My teachers used to write reports and criticise me for not been that type of person children should be. To me, shouting out without thinking is rude.
As soon as I opened the pages of this book and started reading, it all started to make sense. I understood that I am not strange, an awkward outcast, I'm just higher introverted.
I can not thank the author enough for writing this book. It has changed the way I view both myself and those around me. When I attend local groups, I think 'Ah, that person is introverted like me...' and I try to engine a one-on-one conversation after the meeting is over.
This book is a must-read for any one who is, or who knows, is married to, is a parent/child of an introvert. This is definitely one of my top books I've read to date.
on 22 November 2012
Finally a book praising the fact that the quieter and shy members of society have as much to offer as those who have a natural ability to be heard.
Cain looks at lots of case studies of people, couples and well known individuals who through the use of subtle and modest techniques are able to influence the more extroverted members of society or a relationship. Her first case study is herself, and she looks at Rosa Parks, Ghandi and others.
She also looks at how introverts need to have time and space of their own to be able to function, and how some introverted people manage to carry off a extroverted persona at times to help them fit in.
I really enjoyed this book, don't feel quite so alone now!