‘Quiet’ – in praise of introversion, a manifesto for calm and quiet in a loud world
I am a trifle miffed with myself for having let Susan Cain’s Quiet sit on my bookshelf unread since I bought it in January last year because her superb book has so much to tell us about how the world works. Cain shows how an understanding of where we lie on the introvert / extrovert scale can influence our culture, approach to business and leadership, sales, creativity, philanthropy, attitude to money, personal relationships, friends, education and much, much more.
I bought the book blind. Indeed, I had not even heard of it till I saw it in a book shop. I was simply attracted to the sub-title: ‘The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.’ That pushed buttons for me. Even so, I was unprepared for the depth that Cain takes her readers on her exploration (and advocacy) of introversion.
In fact, there is a lot of fuss about Quiet and Cain’s TED talk, and one can see why from the first page. Cain writes well, there is no doubt about it. She engages us right from the start with her arguments and insights to the point where, like a pot-boiler, ‘I couldn’t put it down until I reached the end.’
She introduces her book with two stories. One is the well known story of Rosa Parks, the other is the story of an unknown woman called Laura. Both stories are deeply moving and Cain continues to use stories throughout her book, stories that illustrate her points perfectly as well as entertaining and engaging us, sometimes to the point of tears.
This is also about professional psychology in action. This is no airy-fairy book of pop psychology. Cain sets out her theories and backs them up with detailed interviews and experimental data to prove her points. Moreover, she uses her evidence to highlight tools and skills that introverts can use to flourish calmly and quietly.
Cain is an introvert herself, along with between a third and one half of the rest of the planet, so she does have a vested interest in introversion. However, that does not stop her taking a dispassionate approach to her subject, often acknowledging the good points of extroversion. Moreover, her dispassionate, critical and well researched approach gives her the authority to be an iconoclast. She sets her sights on the ‘Extrovert Ideal’ and launches broadside after broadside on a culture that thinks it is more important to be seen to make a decision quickly and confidently than it is to make the right decision. For Cain, group think, team building, brainstorming, even networking, are shibboleths that need taking down many, many pegs.
For this, the introverts of the world need to be truly thankful. With courage, Cain has stood up and defended the introvert ensemble against accusations of nerdism, shyness, non-contribution to society and numerous other slings and arrows. However, she has also done much to extend the hand of friendship to the extroverts by showing them that introverts have much to offer the world. Cain extols collaboration and seeks acknowledgement by the extroverts of the strengths, differences and qualities of introverts.
Cain provides numerous examples of introverts who have done much to make the world a better place for all who live in it. She is obviously keen that introverts continue in this path. Quiet is both a promise and a threat that introverts will no longer stand for being crowded out by the noise and exuberance of the majority extrovert part of the Western world.