Quiet The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Quiet The Power of Introverts

RATING: 7/10…READ: May 1, 2012

“Quiet” breaks down the misconceptions of introverts and emphasizes the strengths that introverts bring to the world without apologizing for being one. Besides the psychology behind introversion, Quiet provides strategies for work, jobs, social life, and spending your free time. A must read if you are an introvert.

Get at Amazon

It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk taking to head taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of though and feeling, said Hung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the vents swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don’t socialize enough.

In the culture of character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The world personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.

The number of Americans who considered themselves shy increased from 40 percent in the 9170s to 50 percent in the 1990s, probably because we measured ourselves against ever higher standards of fearless self-presentation.

The Self Help industry, into which hundreds of thousands of Americans pour their hearts, souls, and some $11 billion a year, by definition reveals our conception of the ideal self, the one we aspire to become if only we follow the seven principles of this and the three laws of that.

If Abraham Lincoln was the embodiment of virtue during the Culture of Character, then Tony Robbins is his counterpart during the Culture of Personality.

In the United States, he feels conversation is about how effective you are at turning your experiences into stories, whereas a Chinese person might be concerned with taking up too much of the other person’s time with inconsequential information.

Television pundits—that is, people who earn their livings by holding forth confidently on the basis of limited information—make worse predictions about political and economic trends than they would by random chance. And the very worst prognosticators tend to be the most famous and the most confident.

Some technical guy comes in with a good idea. Of course questions are asked of that person that they don’t know. Like, “how big’s the market? What’s you marketing approach? What’s your business plan for this? What’s the product going to cost?” It’s embarrassing. Most people can’t answer those kinds of questions. The people who made it through these boards were not the people with the best ideas. They were the best presenters.

We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

Extroverts who worked with employees lacking in initiative, the extrovert ideal was key to increased performance. However, when the employees had initiative, introversive leadership was key.

Wouldn’t it be a great irony if the leading proponents of the “it’s about the people” mantra weren’t so enamored with meeting large groups of people in real life? Perhaps social media affords us the control we lack in real life socializing: the screen as a barrier between us and the world.

Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader “that fruitful miracle of communication in the midst of solitude.”

Steve Wozniak: I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you’re that rare engineer who’s an inventor and also an artist, I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work Alone. You’re going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you’re working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

The two best groups [expert violinists] spend most of their time practicing in solitude: 24.3 hours a week, or 3.5 hours a day, for the best group, compared with only 9.3 hours a week, or 1.3 hours a day for the worst group. The best violinist rated “practice alone” as the most important of all their music related activities.

Studies have shown that performances gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poorer ideas compared to groups of size, which do worse than groups of four.

Open offices almost always produces poorer performance, especially with introverts, but extroverts as well.

Peer pressure, is not only unpleasant, but can actually change your view of a problem. Groups are like mind-altering substances. If the group thinks the answer if A, you’re much more likely to believe that A is correct too. It’s not that you’re saying consciously “hmm, I’m not sure, but they think the answer’s A, so I’ll go with that.” Nor are you saying, “I want them to like me, so I’ll just pretend that the answer’s A.” No, you are doing something much more unexpected—and dangerous. Most of Bern’s volunteers reported having gone along with the group because “they thought that they hard arrived serendipitously at the same correct answer. They were utterly blind, in other words, to how much their peers had influenced them.

Children with low temperament in childhood, thought to become extroverts. High temperament, introverts.

The footprint of high or low reactive temperament never disappeared in adulthood.

Free will can take us far, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer.

We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.

Introverts are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward—to kill their buzz, you might say—and scan for problems. “As soon as they get excited, they’ll put the brakes on and think about peripheral issues that may be more important. Introverts seem to be specifically wired or trained so when they catch themselves getting excited and focused on a goal, their vigilance increases.

Introverts are not smarter than extroverts. According to IQ scores, the two types are equally intelligent. And on so many tasks, particularly those performed under time or social pressure or involving multitasking, extroverts to better. Extroverts are better than introverts at handling information overload. Introverts’ reflectiveness uses up a lot of cognitive capacity. On any given task, if we have 100 percent cognitive capacity, an introvert may have only 75 percent on task and 25 percent off task, whereas an extrovert may have 90 percent on task. This is because most tasks are goal-directed. Extroverts appear to allocate more their cognitive capacity to the goal at hand, while introverts use up capacity by monitoring how the task is going.

If you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what’s happening around them. It’s as if extroverts are seeing “what is” while their introverted peers are asking “what if.”

“It’s not that I’m so smart”, said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up.

If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth. If you prefer single tasking to multitasking, stick to your guns.

Chinese high school students tell researchers that they prefer friends who are “humble” and “altruistic,” “honest” and “hard working,” while American high school students seek out the “cheerful,” “enthusiastic,” and “sociable.”

It’s because of relationship honoring, for example, that social anxiety disorder in Japan, known as taijin kyofusho, takes the form not of excessive worry about embarrassing oneself, as it does in the United States, but of embarrassing others.

If the cause is just and you put your heart into it, it’s almost a universal law: you will attract people who want to share your cause. Soft power is quieter persistence. The people I’m thinking of are very persistent in their day-to-day, person-to-person interactions. Eventually they build up a team.

Our lives are dramatically enhanced when we’re involved in core personal projects that we consider meaningful, manageable, and not unduly stressful, and that are supported by others. When someone asks us “how are things?” we may give a throwaway answer, but our true response is a function of how wall our core personal projects are going.

When Professor Little makes a great speech, it’s part because he’s self-monitoring every moment, continually checking his audience for subtle signs of pleasure or boredom and adjusting his presentation to meet its needs.

She was not telling herself, “I’m doing this to advance work I care about deeply, and when the work is done I’ll settle back into my true self.” Instead, her interior monologue was “The route to success is to be the sort of person I am not.” This is not self-monitoring; it is self-negation. Where Jullian acts out of character for the sake of worthy tasks that temporarily require a different orientation, Alison believes that there is something fundamentally wrong with who she is.

Hideout sessions tell us that, paradoxically, the best way to act out of character is to say true to yourself as you possibly can—starting by creating many “restorative niches” as possible in your daily life.

“Restorative niche” is Professor Little’s term for the place you go when you want to return to your true self. It can be a physical place, like the path beside the Richelieu River, or a temporal one, like the quiet breaks you plan between sales calls.


Will this job allow me to spend time on in-character activities I like, for example, reading, strategizing, writing, and researching? Will I have a private workspace or be subject to the constant demands of an open office plan? If the job doesn’t give me enough restorative niches, will I have enough free time on evenings and weekends to grant them to myself?


Let’s say you’re single. You dislike the bar scene, but you crave intimacy, and you want to be in a long-term relationship in which you can share cozy evenings and long conversations with your partner and a small circle of friends. In order to achieve this goal, you make an agreement with yourself that you will push yourself to go to social events, because only in this way can you hope to meet a mate and reduce the number of gatherings you attend over the long term. But while you pursue this goal, you will attend only as many events as you can comfortable stand, You decide in advance what that amount is—once a week, once a month, once a quarter. And once you’ve met your quota, you’ve earned the right to stay at home without feeling guilty.


Or perhaps you’ve always dreamed of building your own small company, working from home so you can spend more time with your spouse and children. You know you’ll need to do a certain amount of networking, so you make the following Free Trait Agreement with yourself: you will go to one schmooze-fest per week. At each event you will have at least one genuine conversation (since this comes easier to you than “working the room”) and follow up with that person the next day. After that, you get to go home and not feel bad when you turn down other networking opportunities that come your way.

Probably the most common—and damaging—misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro social; neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social. What psychologists call “the need for intimacy” is present in introverts and extroverts alike. In fact, people who value intimacy highly don’t tend to be “the loud, outgoing, life-of-the-party-extrovert.” They are more likely to be someone with a select group of close friends, who prefers “sincere and meaningful conversations over wild parties.”

Introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer those they compete with.

A lot of people believe selling requires being a fast talker, or knowing how to use charisma to persuade. Those things do require an extroverted way of communicating. But in sales, there’s a truism that ‘we have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionately.’ I believe that’s what makes someone really good at selling or consulting—the number-one thing is they’ve got to really listen well. When I look at the top salespeople in my organization, none of those extroverted qualities are key to their success.

The secret to life is put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.

Here’s a rule of thumb for networking events: one honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards. Rush home afterward and kick back on your sofa. Carve out restorative niches.

Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.

The next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.