Have you ever wondered at the sociability of some people which allows them to engage endlessly in conversation with others? Have you ever longed for the end of the day when you could return home and enjoy the solitude of your private environment? Are you the type of person who would decline a spontaneous social evening out in favour of a show or good book curled up in your favourite chair? Chances are you're an introvert, and you draw your energy from being alone.
While extraverts gain energy from frequent interaction with other people, introverts do the opposite, naturally preferring to be by themselves, thinking through their thoughts alone in their head, and processing things internally. They don't speak as often as extraverts, who process their thoughts spontaneously, preferring to talk their way out loud through an issue until they reach a satisfactory conclusion. They prefer interaction with others while they do this, and use others as a sounding board for new thoughts and ideas. Shared brainstorming sessions aren't preferred by the introvert who prefers to process thoughts in silence, doing all their thinking in their heads, and coming out with their conclusion at the end of the thought process, fully formed and considered. Introverts generally think before they speak, and they're fairly good listeners.
The challenge for introverts is that society has geared itself and its social, educational and work processes around the extraverted person. Children no longer sit in rows in school classrooms, encouraged to do their thinking by themselves inside their minds. They are clustered into pods of 4 or 6, undertake group work at least as often as working alone, processing school work through the group dynamic and getting a group mark instead of marks that reflect individual effort. Great for the extravert, likely an uncomfortable and out-of-preference activity for the introvert.
Children grow up from school and enter the work of work where the process of group work continues to take precedence over individual quiet work. Work is done by committee, with people gathered around tables and encouraged to speak their thoughts out loud. Back at the office, people are more likely to work in cubicles where it's hard to have individual privacy of thought or action: people engage in group work, are evaluated for their facility to work well on teams. The team takes credit for the solution, even when it's the introvert's mind processing away quietly in an environment of distractions that may have ultimately given the answer that gets adoped by the group.
In her recent book, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," author Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extravert Ideal in the twentieth century, from the story of Dale Carnegie and the push toward public speaking, to the Harvard Business School ideal, where introverts are subverted into an extravert curriculum, social and cultural program that measures success by outward expression and aggression. And while there are many benefits to be obtained from operating in an extraverted world (mostly by extraverts), a world without introverts would be deprived of the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, Chopin's nocturnes, Proust's In Search of Lost Time, Peter Pan, George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm, Charlie Brown, The Cat in the Hat, Google, Schindler's List, E.T., and Saving Private Ryan, and the magical world of Harry Potter. Quoting science journalist Winifred Gallagher, Cain pithily observes "Neither E-mc2 nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal."
Cain's book is a salve to the injuries sustained over time by the introvert in twentieth-century society, but she offers up more than sympathy. Through delightful and insightful introduction to some of the century's most celebrated introverts (Rosa Parks, for one), and pairing them with some of the century's most celebrated extraverts (Martin Luther King Jr), she reveals interesting partnerships that can arise when introverts and extraverts come together. She also offers sage advice to introverts on when and how much to exhibit extravert behaviour, how to negotiate one's way in a world that celebrates the extravert ideal, and how to tap into the natural tendencies of introversion that can lead to great powers of observation, listening, and creative thought.
Quiet is an engaging book, a good read for the introvert who likes to read and stop and read again, stop and think about what's just been read, pulling in observations, related thoughts, and speculation, listening quietly for wisps of ideas to wiggle forth. While useful for persons of all type, if only to broaden one's understanding of the amazing differences between people, it is written especially for the introvert, an indulgence, like taking a tall glass of water after a long, dry run.