Quiet

This is a wonderful book by Susan Cain, who focuses on the power of introverts in today’s loud world. She weaves a great story that draws on the latest research (as of 2012 when it was published) that is just beginning to explore how valuable introverts are to society. She also argues that while society tends to value extroversion, perhaps we would all — including extroverts — be better off if there was more listening and quiet in the world. I think that today, many of us would agree.

Her book explores introversion and extroversion from a variety of perspectives. My best recollection from the audiobook is that she presumes about 1/3 of people are extroverts, about 1/3 are introverts, and about 1/3 fall in between. She does a good job early on of clearly saying that many of the observations are most applicable to those who fall on the extremes, and that many people in fact can switch behavior depending on the situation. I myself feel that way: some days and in some situations, I can be the life of the party and will be talking loudly and leading the charge and being boisterous. On other days, though, I am the quiet, pensive, thoughtful, reflective guy who doesn’t say much, doesn’t contribute much to conversation, and who is best engaged in a 1-on-1 setting. Her exploration of that topic felt most intimate and accurate, naturally, and it was fun to hear the technical language that researchers of these topics use.

She talked a lot about the ideas of quiet, introversion, and how to cope in a world that almost demands extroversion. In fact, through research she found that Harvard’s Business School, perhaps the most elite school in the world, has a pre-occupation with getting students to be outgoing. They focus on group projects, participating in class, and expressing opinions aloud. And this has trickled down; a lot of high schools and grade schools also use these techniques — focusing less on learning and understanding subjects, than on articulating how one’s position relates to the recently presented facts. It seems a logical extension of the ‘everything is relative’ movement, positing that because I feel or think something, it cannot be rejected, because it is a reflection of me and who I am. I take significant opposition to this movement. And yet, I do think the practices put in place in those schools are fairly useful. Perhaps a balance can be struck between reading, writing, listening, and those outgoing activities, but in the world I do see value in learning to think quickly, formulate a response, and speak with clarity. I recognize her point is to push for the introvert’s perspective, so I simply appreciate that she brings up this observation of a set of activities in schools that I hadn’t thought about through this lens.

My big takeaway was that introversion can be a really good thing, and that quiet and reflection are needed more in today’s society. It’s a great book that I would strongly recommend, as it helped me gain more appreciation for the research being done in this field and the value of introverts such as myself to society.