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QUINTESSENCE

QUIET by Susan Cain

"If you're an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up... So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don't let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy death, don't force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single-tasking to multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you incalculable power to go your own way. It's up to you to use that independence to good effect."
- Susan Cain, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking," Broadway Paperbacks, 2012.

Susan Cain published "Quiet" in 2012 and her book has sat on my bed table, waiting it's turn in the stack. The title of the book intrigued me and, left me feeling unaccountably defensive. I was, I admit it, reluctant to delve in. Quite right in guessing this unassuming, deeply researched book would shine a spotlight on precisely those aspects of myself I work very hard to "counterbalance."

Yes, I am an introvert; pretending, like thousands of others, to be at ease in the company of many - whether in a packed room, online, giving a presentation, navigating a crowded world. Over the years, roughly since the first grade, I observed our society rewards extroverts - the more social, vocally confident, group-oriented and popular, the better. So what to do if you are quiet, a book-lover, comfortable in solitude, drawn to a best friend not a posse? Fake it.

Susan Cain exposed my game. Her multi-faceted research explains the bias against introverts and how introverts cope in an extroverts' world. How introverts selectively use the tools available (for example, presentation and performance coaching, the written word, and online media) to function comfortably in an increasingly noisy, in-your-face connective culture. Organizational studies for "Quiet" (spanning an examination of the purposeful extroversion championed by the Harvard Business School, to the upper echelons of corporate and military America) exposes key ways the strengths of the introverted personality are frequently maligned or overlooked; the extremes to which extroversion is so highly valued for its confident hubris that others will follow an extrovert, right or wrong. Her work includes studies of reward feedback on human behavior, the effect of dopamine on the brain, and the linkage between the development of social appreciation for the characteristics of extroversion and the push for success in sales. Look a bit deeper however, and studies reveal the unexpected, quiet triumphs of non-charismatic thinkers in what are, after all, results-oriented paradigms.

Cain's work highlights the importance of knowing the difference between introverts and extroverts and appreciating the contributions of both styles of personality development. Her point is to know yourself and play to your strengths. Cain quotes Albert Einstein at the beginning of a chapter, "When Collaboration Kills Creativity" - I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork... Full well do I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person should do the thinking and commanding. As a writer, an admitted introvert, and the parent of at least one happily introverted child, this declaration of independence in the pursuit of creative achievement has great meaning to me personally. Instead of instructors worrying about whether little Suzy or Johnny interfaces well in elementary school group-time, perhaps we should pay attention instead to what our children prefer to do and how successful their efforts are.

Cain's point is that there are great strengths in what introverts do best that should be encouraged and allowed to flourish. Where would we be without the well known introverts of our world? The Van Goghs, Wozniaks, Einsteins, and Kafkas - even Theodore Geisel (Dr. Suess)... We are a powerful mixture of biology (psychological inclination) and free will - to work and perform in the ways we function best, to collaborate effectively not blindly, to focus on personal effectiveness, not frustration. And above all, to be at peace with ourselves. Cain quotes Anais Nin in her final chapter and it feels fitting to end this review of "Quiet" with Nin's words - Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.
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