Overview: Susan Cain’s meticulously researched and passionately constructed story will make you look around you very carefully. It will make you think again about the talents that other people are showing (or hiding), and about the culture which allows them to shine (or drowns them out). One of the most useful books on my shelf this year.
1. What’s the book’s big idea?
“Quiet” is a cultural study of introversion and extroversion, whose main premise is probably this: the introverts have been unseen, unheard, and under-appreciated in many areas of Western culture. The book’s arguments and its supporting examples – both from people we know and from research we ought to rediscover – go on to prove one thing: if your leaders, your teachers, your bosses or your learners are introverted, this is by no means a bad thing. And you may need them today, more than ever.
2. What’s the reality described in the book?
“Quiet” was written from a perspective that could perhaps be labeled “Extrovert Central” (a New-York based ex-lawyer, devoted to tracing psychological and personality traits in American population). Except it isn’t. The author describes herself as introverted, and her story fits well into what she (in the latter part of the book) calls “redemptive life story” – her search for the value of introverts in Western societies, schools and businesses is her search for kindred spirits.
Despite this, the book’s distinctly American in its focus. The proportion of extroverts and introverts between societies may not change, but the values associated with those traits will – and the book reads differently in the UK than it would in the USA or Canada.
3. What did the book inspire me to do?
Every other page in “Quiet” is scribbled with my underlinings and exclamation marks. And some paragraphs I’m truly grateful for. Susan Cain’s story is something that most introverts will tend to cherish, appreciate and discover for themselves.
This book made me search for balance between my solitary and schmooze-filled activities; it made me look for ways to enjoy both in their own way. It also made me find new ways of discussing how I feel (and what I feel like doing) with those close to me.
In my coaching work, “Quiet” made me question even more assumptions made by clients and their surroundings. Why is an open-plan office the only way to be? Why is an after-work drink “a necessity?” And how well would introverts adapt to big British towns?
4. What other voices / books are there?
Elaine N. Aron is on author often referenced in “Quiet.” Her book is titled “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.”
For the extroverted perspective, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is still the classic; a more modern take is Keith Ferrrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone.”
5. What effect is this book likely to have?
If you’re an introvert, it may help you feel more okay with how you behave and how you gain/lose energy. If you’re an extrovert, it may help you understand or identify the introverts around you, and work/love/live more enjoyably with them.
For those who work, manage, teach or learn, “Quiet” is a perfect guide to making the spaces and discourses around us more open to all forms of work and study. It’s a useful reminder that throughout history, good ideas happened when quiet people worked with the outgoing ones – and trouble began when the contributions of those who think, worry and observe more carefully were disregarded or hurried through.
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