23 September 2014

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, in the Rearview.

Hello, Readers!

Thanks again for dropping in.  Lately, I've been doing a lot of posts about social justice, particularly addressing Rape Culture issues, but today, I wanted to share a book that has been incredibly freeing to me personally: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  In case you don't know who Susan Cain is, here's an awesome TED Talk about why Introverts are still awesome.  

 In case you're reading my blog and you happen to be an extrovert, let me assure you that Quiet in no way insults or demeans extroversion, and as I'll get into, it even has some tips on how to be even better at what you're already exceptional at.  

A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent van Gogh. I prefer to think that the planet needs athletes, philosophers, sex symbols, painters, scientists; it needs the warmhearted, the hardhearted, the coldhearted, and the weakhearted. It needs those who can devote their lives to studying how many droplets of water are secreted by the salivary glands of dogs under which circumstances, and it needs those who can capture the passing impression of cherry blossoms in a fourteen-syllable poem or devote twenty-five pages to the dissection of a small boy's feelings as he lies in bed in the dark waiting for his mother to kiss him goodnight... Indeed the presence of outstanding strengths presupposes that energy needed in other areas has been channeled away from them.
Allen Shawn 

Susan Cain opens Quiet with the above quote, then prefaces each chapter with a quote of its own which encapsulates the chapter's contents quite nicely.  As we read through Quiet, Cain first lays out the definitions of each word that she'll be using, so that even a Psychology lay-person (like myself) can understand exactly what she means. Then as Quiet continues, Cain builds on these definitions to create a rich nuance that respects and validates both introverts and extroverts.  
Quiet walks us through the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the US, then examines what we as a whole culture have lost because we have favored one type of presentation and personality over another type.  In fact, Quiet is a master balancing act that argues for diversity and collaboration as a means of achieving greater success for both personality types.  Which is of course why Cain opens with the quote from Allen Shawn.  We are interdependent.  Where one person might be strong, another might be weak.  Steve Wozniak wouldn't have been the huge success he was without the strong presentation and branding skills of Steve Jobs.  Moses wouldn't have been able to convince Israel to leave Egypt without the extroversion of Aaron.  And so on.  Cain doesn't argue for supremacy but for peace and mutual appreciation.  
One of Cain's chapters, entitled "When Collaboration kills Creativity," evaluates the rise of what she terms "New Groupthink" (watch the video for more information on that).  We all remember what it was like being forced to collaborate either in school (starting as early as Kindergarten in some cases) or in work (especially with the rise of totally "open" office designs).  Some people don't contribute very much, some not at all, and some dominate the process regardless of ability, because we as a society have taught that speaking convincingly is more important than having any real ideas.  The studies that Cain uses to address this topic of New Groupthink and forced collaboration actually show that all people perform worse under forced collaboration than when they work alone.  However, if each member of a group works independently on a project and then come together, the groups do dramatically better than any one member working alone.  Cain's research doesn't condemn collaboration, but it calls into question how we collaborate.  
Throughout Quiet, Cain validates introverts and encourages us (even extroverts) to be true to our natures.  One of the incredibly useful things that Cain points out is that introverts and extroverts require different levels of stimulation in order to be focused.  If you study better with the TV on or music blaring, then you're probably an extrovert.  If you focus better with minimal outside stimulus, then you're probably an introvert.  
Armed with that knowledge, I started looking through my daily journals and noting which days I got the most writing done, and I noticed, overwhelmingly, that the days when I didn't listen to music were the days when I not only got more writing done, but the writing I did was better and required less editing later on.  Granted, some days, I'll still want to listen to music, but now that I know what the ideal level of outside stimulus is (close to zero), I can create (and already have created) more effective work habits.  

In conclusion, I cannot recommend this book highly enough for both introverts and extroverts.  1 in 3 people are introverted in the US, so that means that you do know some introverts.  Quiet will help extroverts to respect the quiet strengths of introverts, while remaining true to their own natures.  For those of us who are introverts, Quiet is a breath of fresh air, a real call for us to be true to ourselves, to love our needs for solitude, to recognize that we are awe-inspiring just the way we are.  

Thanks for reading. Get out there and embrace your excellence.  

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