The untapped potential of the introverted

Susan Altman, Staff Writer

Apart from their fame, did you know that Rosa Parks, T.S. Eliot, Sir Isaac Newton, J.K. Rowling, and Steven Spielberg have something in common? All of them possess (or possessed) a shared personality trait: the tendency towards introversion. In her recently published non-fiction work, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” lawyer-turned-author Susan Cain explores the often misunderstood characteristic.

Cain, an introvert herself, covers several subjects in this extensively researched book about the significant number of Americans who, according to the dust jacket,  “prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams.”

In her introduction, she further defines this description, and clarifies that, as is the case with most psychological terms, there are varying degrees of introversion. However, she also makes her main message perfectly clear from this start. While the American ideal involves being extroverted, which often leads to poor self-esteem in introverted individuals, introverts should instead take control of and appreciate their careful traits and make the world—and their life—a better place, instead of attempting to be something they are not.

In the first section, “The Extrovert Ideal,” Cain documents the rise of the everyday bold American over the thinking one, going back to the early twentieth century to explain it, citing urbanization and advertising as some of the main reasons.  In the ensuing chapters, she comes back to modern-day America, where she conducts interviews at the Harvard Business School and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California, which both demand extremely social lifestyles. But these are only two examples: Cain claims an increasing number of corporations and schools are forcing teamwork upon their employees and students, despite evidence indicating that more privacy often leads to much increased productivity. Other sections tend to follow this sort of variety between history, personal interviews, and scientific and psychological studies.

“Your Biology, Your Self,” a more methodical segment, obviously explores the biological evidence behind introversion. One study, for example, shows that babies who react more to sudden situations often prove to be more introverted as adults. Another indicates that introverts and extroverts tend to use different parts of the brain. She even branches into the field of zoology, comparing the aggressive and cautious habits within various species of birds and fish.

In other sections, Cain examines the way certain groups often struggle in a society which prizes self-assurance over respect, provides historical examples of numerous influential introverts, and offers advice as to when to act more extroverted. But this book should not be viewed as introvert-exclusive: Extroverts, particularly those interested in managerial work, business, or even being a parent, for example, can also benefit from reading this book, as it can deliver strategies in how to effectively use their skills, or simply get along with them.

In addition to hard scientific evidence and tales of other introverts in this high octane country, Cain also supplies a unique personal approach, providing anecdotes about her own journey to become a successful public speaker, having an extroverted husband, and discovering what she truly desires in life.

Essentially, “Quiet” is a fascinating composition which combines at least one topic, be it science, history, advice, or memoir, that everyone should enjoy in an easy-to-read manner. Besides being available at bookstores, libraries, and in e-book formats, a copy can be requested through PASCAL at FMU’s Rogers Library.