“Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain
This book gives us the tools to still be our introvert self and use it to our advantage.
It is the same approach that Mahatma Gandhi uses to mobilize a whole nation against a mighty colonial power, what makes Warren Buffett can keep his head above the irrational herd, what gives Isaac Newton the focus to discover the theory of gravity or Albert Einstein to discover his theory of relativity, what provides JK Rowling and George Orwell their observational skills and the solitude to write them down.
So, what are introvert and extrovert? According to psychologist Carl Jung, introvert people are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, while extrovert people to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they interpret from the events happening around them, while extroverts plunge directly into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their energy by being alone, while extroverts recharge theirs by socializing. It is one of the very essence of our personality, a natural trait that cannot be forced no matter how much you try.
Take the story of introverted Rosa Parks, for example, how her calm demeanor was the perfect fit for the bus protest incident and would not have been successful had the person sitting there was the extrovert and fiery Martin Luther King Jr. Nor would it be a success if the preaching role of Dr King was forced upon the quiet Ms Parks. Indeed, it is about the best way to measure our response in accordance to our true nature, as both Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks proceeded to influence the civil rights movement with their own comfortable demeanor.
But how can someone be a natural extrovert while other be a natural introvert? Introversion-extroversion can be detected from the early age, from looking at how sensitive babies are towards the stimulus of their environment, with high-reactivity nature represents one biological basis of introversion. This is what commonly acknowledged as “being a sensitive person.” The more high-reactive a baby is (i.e. introverted) the quieter they become as they don’t seek any more stimulants, while extroverted babies (and hence, adults) constantly seek more stimulants from outside of their brain to feel more alive.
Furthermore, according to the author, Susan Cain, “[h]igh-reactive kids [i.e. introverts] who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show. Often they’re exceedingly empathic, caring, and cooperative.” Cain then elaborates, “[t]hey work well with others. They are kind, conscientious, and easily disturbed by cruelty, injustice, and irresponsibility. They’re successful at the things that matter to them. They don’t necessarily turn into class presidents or stars of the school play… though this can happen, too: “For some it’s becoming the leader of their class. For others it takes the form of doing well academically or being well-liked.””
However, in a society where extroverts are the model aspiration, being an introvert can be challenging. The book dedicate one whole chapter on the history of extrovert culture that began in the US, that covers examples of how society came to worship extrovert traits and personalities – from Dale Carnegie to Tony Robbins to the Harvard Business School culture – which creates the stigma that the model of success are those who conform to this nature.
The book then analyses the cultural aspect of introversion-extroversion, with Western culture praise more of extroversion and Eastern culture promotes introversion. It also cover the risk takers and risk averse traits that can be heavily linked to extroversion and introversion, which adds a new angle on the irrational exuberance culture among majority extroverted Wall Street geniuses that fail to think rationally in the face of risk. As Cain remarks, “just as the amygdala [the emotional, flight-or-fight, part of the brain] of a high-reactive person is more sensitive than average to novelty, so do extroverts seem to be more susceptible than introverts to the reward-seeking cravings of the old brain. In fact, some scientists are starting to explore the idea that reward-sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion; it is what makes an extrovert an extrovert.”
In other words, extroverts are characterized by their tendency to seek outside reward, from the no 1 champion status to sexual highs to cold cash. Hence, their greater economic, political, and hedonistic ambitions compared with introverts. As Cain elaborates, “even their sociability is a function of reward-sensitivity, according to this view—extroverts socialize because human connection is inherently gratifying.”
However, although extroverts and introverts have contrasting personalities they can still co-exist nicely – whether it’s family, friendship, work environment, or romantic relationship -, with the book discusses through plenty of case studies where both successful and failed relationship occur. For instance, the book point out the psychological findings that introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts, while extroverts prefer those they compete with. This will be very useful in plenty of social contexts, especially in negotiation.
It also elaborates on how introverts can fully utilize our natural traits. For example, it’s so happened that for introverts they can “fake” extroversion, which stems from psychological theories covered neatly in the book, like the Free Trait Theory and Fixed Trait Theory. But in the end of the day, that will eat us inside. Instead, I found the most inspiration in the curious case of Jon Berghoff, a highly introverted person that becomes the best regional salesman by not faking an extroverted traits, but by comfortably using his introvert way of heart-to-heart communication that speaks to his strengths.
This book is such an enlightenment that I suddenly can spot the extroverts and introverts in my surroundings, complete on the spectrum of calm extrovert, anxious extrovert, calm introvert, and anxious introvert that the book brilliantly describes. All the behaviour that they are making, their reaction on things, their decision making, the choice of people they surround themselves with, the problems they are making, etc, all become clear.
And in the end of the day, as the book shows, what matters it not the cards that have been give to us, but how we use them. Likewise, it’s not about certain personality traits that would makes you successful or not, it’s how you maximize the one that you already have – whether it’s extrovert or introvert – with the right mindset and attitude, at the right environment, with the right crowd. As Susan Cain remarks, “[w]e often marvel at how introverted, geeky kids “blossom” into secure and happy adults. We liken it to a metamorphosis. However, maybe it’s not the children who change but their environments. As adults, they get to select the careers, spouses, and social circles that suit them. They don’t have to live in whatever culture they’re plunked into.”