QUIET: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain – reviewed by David Edwards

 

SUSAN CAIN
SUSAN CAIN

 

How many times have you heard the refrain, ‘to succeed in this world you need to be bold and outgoing, to speak out and show leadership?’ In other words to display extrovert behaviour. Conversely, think of the instances where the term introvert has surfaced in your life, perhaps even directed at you or a close family member. To be categorised as an introvert implied you were anti-social and more comfortable living within your own world rather than embracing those who enjoyed constant change, social banter and physical challenges. To be described as an introvert was intended as a slur and those affected by this ‘malaise’ in the eyes of extroverts, could never be expected to reach high achievement.

To this day the belief that extroverts make the best leaders continues to thrive. The Harvard University Business School, regarded internationally as the peak institution of its kind, views extrovert personalities as the ideal business leaders yet it is now well recognised that the Great Financial Crisis could well have been avoided or minimised if introverts had been able to temper the extreme risk taking ethos common among extrovert business leaders of the time.

Exploring the conceptions attached to introvert and extrovert personality types is the core of this revealing work by Susan Cain. Susan Cain is a corporate lawyer by training who specialises in psychological non-fiction. The great strength of this work is the way in which the author gathers a vast range of research on an area of psychology that has long been controversial and in many ways socially divisive. Here in the one work Susan Cain has brought together the views and research findings of the worlds leaders in this field of psychology. The extrovert-introvert debate is probably one of the most studied areas of human behaviour because it seeks to explain complex behaviours that affect everyone of us and compels us to seek explanations to achieve better understand of who and what we are. Approximately thirty percent of humankind are introverts and so it is no surprise that in the western world in particular, extrovert behaviour appears to rule the spheres of business, media, marketing and politics.susan cain quiet

 

The depth of research undertaken for Quiet is most impressive as is the author’s free flowing, conversational style. Potentially the book could easily have become a dry factual account of the voluminous research undertaken to date around the introvert-extrovert field of study. Cain has created a fascinating read by the personal way she introduces the reader to leading researchers and we are taken to new levels of understanding through their eyes. The warmth and humanity of this approach provides for compelling and deeply satisfying reading. Throughout, the author threads her own anecdotes and connects strongly with the reader via this mechanism. Cain raises situations familiar to many parents who fret over the potential consequences of apparent anti-social behaviour observed in their children. As Cain explains, many scenarios require behavioural change for both parents and child and readers will be heartened to learn of the positive outcomes that can result from seemingly intractable situations.

Cain, an introvert herself, presents a persuasive case for the powerful contribution introverts can make to society and demonstrates how their propensity for deep and independent thinking has lead to many improved outcomes. By way of example Cain cites the founders of Apple as two individuals who did their best thinking and development working alone, far removed from the distractions of the surrounding extrovert dominated business world. For those who doubt whether they can ever change from being socially awkward, shy and terrified of public speaking, Cain highlights the case of a psychology professor who became a cult figure as the result of his highly eccentric performance as a lecturer. Contrary to appearances, the professor is deeply introverted preferring nothing better than being alone with his wife on their 1000 acre ranch in remote Canada. As the professor reveals, he learned to express himself in an extrovert manner because he realised this was the only way he could successfully engage with his students. The professor’s extrovert behaviour was a performance, similar to that of an actor; a performance that ran counter to his true self.

Quiet demystifies two of the core personality traits of our time and is highly recommended.

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking by Susan Cain is available through Amazon and published by Viking.  Signed copies are available.