*A full executive-style summary of this book is now available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com.
Being the quieter, more reserved type, introverts are not as inclined as others to broadcast just who they are and what makes them tick, much less honk their own horns. However, given that Western culture has increasingly pushed introverts aside, and is intent on celebrating their opposite, it is high time that introverts stepped out of character, made themselves heard, and proclaimed to the world that they have much to offer indeed. This is the campaign that Susan Cain launches in her new book, `Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking'.
Cain begins her account by way of establishing that Western culture has increasingly adopted an `Extrovert Ideal,' in which louder, bolder, more ebullient and risk-friendly individuals are valued over and above the quieter, more reserved, reflective and heed-friendly ones. While Western culture has a long history of favoring the extrovert, Cain argues that this bias has steepened since the industrial revolution, and particularly in the past century as the West has become ever-more urbanized and commercial. Over the course of this time-frame, Cain argues, a Culture of Personality, perhaps best represented by the motivational guru Tony Robins, has come to replace a Culture of Character, best represented by such figures as Abraham Lincoln.
Cain's intention here is not to put-down extroverts, or to say that they are inferior to introverts. Rather, her argument is that the latter have an important role to play in many areas of society that is now often overlooked. For one, the introvert's greater willingness to listen to others and their input makes them better leaders than is generally recognized. Second, their heed-friendly temperaments serves to better protect them (and those around them) against dangerous situations, and makes them particularly valuable in such professions as financial investing, where undue risk is not only known to get individuals in trouble, but entire nations, and even the entire international community. Third, the fact that introverts tend to have a sharpened moral sense makes them well-suited to fill the role of the social conscience of society, which is often valuable in protecting the downtrodden, and also in saving societies from their own recklessness.
Finally, the added thoughtfulness and persistence of introverts, and their heightened capacity to work independently, often gives them an edge in creative enterprises such as art and technological innovation, as well as in more intellectual industries such as science and engineering. Indeed, Cain insists that there is plenty of evidence to indicate that working independently is an important part of having and developing the best ideas, not only for introverts but for everyone. This helps explain why the most creative people tend to be introverted, and also serves as an argument in favor of tempering the emphasis on groupthink and collaborative work that is currently running rampant through our schools and businesses.
While introverts often have more to offer than many recognize, it is also the case that their sensitive nature tends to make them more fragile than others; as such, they are particularly susceptible to having their talents stifled and even snuffed out before they have had the time to develop. For this reason, Cain argues, it is especially important for parents and educators to know the best approaches when it comes to both raising and educating the quieter type, and the author makes a concerted effort to address these issues here. In particular, Cain emphasizes just how vital it is to encourage and nurture the introvert's peculiar talents, and to be patient in dealing with their inwardness. Having said this, Cain does not advocate giving in to this inwardness entirely, as she stresses the importance of challenging the introvert to come out of their shell as much as they are able, in order that they may learn to make their voices heard, and to get along in a more extrovert-friendly world. In connection with this, Cain argues that it is not only possible, but often healthy and beneficial for introverts to stretch themselves to be more extroverted on occasion--especially when it is in the name of a goal that they value, and as long as it is not overdone.
Altogether, the work is well researched and very insightful, and there is much to be learned here about the quieter among us for the extroverted and introverted alike--and also much to help the latter feel more comfortable in their own skin (thankfully without being an exercise in self-congratulation for them). A comprehensive summary of the book, as well as many of the juicier details and anecdotes to be found therein, is available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com; the information in the article will also be available in a condensed version in the form of a podcast soon.