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Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking
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Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking

In 2003, The Atlantic Monthly published an articled called "Caring for Your Introvert" in which author Jonathan Rauch explains, for the benefit of extroverts, the makeup and thinking of introverts. It became the most-forwarded article in The Atlantic's history, and if you're an extrovert who's in a close relationship with an introvert, you've likely already been sent a copy of it. Rauch patiently explains that introverts find the company of others draining, and the most loving thing you can do for an introvert is acknowledge him and then leave him alone.

Rauch's approach is for friends and lovers, however. Understanding introversion in the professional world is a different story, where often those who speak loudest and most confidently are perceived as effective leaders, while those who pick their spots or who speak less boldly are often unheard, disregarded, or barreled over. Susan Cain addresses this issue in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Broadway Books, 2012). In elegant, lucid prose, Cain first sets up the problem, giving the historical background of an American culture that didn't always put personality above character (the world personality didn't even exist in the English language until the 18th Century, she explains). She names several contributing factors, including ubanization, consumerism, and the American shift in economy from agrarian to industrial. These early chapters are the most interesting from an ideological point of view, as when Cain spends time at a Tony Robbins seminar, or when she gets to know students at Harvard Business School. Her point, as if introverts didn't already know it, is that a lot of the business world, with its emphasis on selling, values extroversion, sometimes at its peril:

"It makes sense that so many introverts hid even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal--the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypical extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong."

In subsequent sections of the book, Cain explores where introversion comes from, how other cultures view introversion, and what to do with this seemingly gaping difference in how some of us are made up. Are introverts born, or are they made? What are consistent tendencies among intrinsically and extrinsically motivated people, and what are often the rewards or consequences of each? Although much of the illustration in this book is anecdotal, in this section the anecdotes are especially powerful, as in the story of Warren Buffet predicting the dot-com bubble-burst and being quietly ridiculed for it before being proven correct a year later.

Although the book has a definite slant toward not only understanding introverts but valuing them too, it isn't until the final chapters that it becomes prescriptive. The last section is titled How to Love, How to Work, and it offers advice for introverts and for those who wish to work best with them. A considerable amount of attention is paid to the relationships between grown-ups and the introverted children in their lives, whether the grown-ups are parents, teachers, or other professionals. This is perhaps the inspiring portion of the book, but it is difficult to imagine a world (beyond the specific examples Cain offers) so nurturing of introversion, and for this reason, this reviewer who bears battle-scars similar to the author's can't help but read it as a pipe dream with unicorns and rainbows. Introverts like Cain herself had to grow up in a world seemingly run by extroverts, and one wonders if the better advice would be for young introverts to figure out some way just to deal with a world that isn't suited for them.

Perhaps this takeaway is too cynical; after all, that article in The Atlantic continues to take its laps around the Internet, and eventually everyone will have read it. If Quiet's primary contribution is simply to add to the growing awareness of our differences, it does so brilliantly and unforgettably, and if that's all it accomplishes, it will have furthered the author's cause a great deal. Or perhaps, like Warren Buffet's contemporaries who ignored his record and scoffed at his prediction, this reviewer is underestimating a writer with an impressive record herself, and the world will benefit by quieting down just a little in order to pay attention to the creative ideas of the bookish, quiet people on the fringe. Toward that end, Quiet has tons to recommend it.


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Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking - Executive Leadership Articles

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