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Quiet by Susan Cain


You can check out my review of this book here.


Yet extroverts have taken over. Sensitivity and seriousness are often seen as undesirable. Introverts feel reproached for being the way they are.

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 channelled away from them. —ALLEN SHAWN

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Addresses the crowd. “There comes a time that people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,” he tells them. “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amidst the piercing chill of an Alpine November.”

They said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.” They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”

We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.

Some fool even themselves, until some life event—a layoff, an empty nest, an inheritance that frees them to spend time as they like—jolts them into taking stock of their true natures.

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.

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.

Introversion—along with its cousins’ sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent—even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas.

Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners.

“We need someone who can help us put deals together without letting ego get in the way,”

Today Laura understands that her introversion is an essential part of who she is, and she embraces her reflective nature. The loop inside her head that accused her of being too quiet and unassuming plays much less often.

Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, said Jung, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events 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.

Introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well.

Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo.

Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Some are comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude.

Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

Introvert is not a synonym for hermit.

Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.

Calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.

And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies, as we’ll see, compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.

The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert—the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated—but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same.

In leadership positions they execute with quiet competence.

As Jung felicitously put it, “There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum”

Introversion and extroversion interact with our other personality traits and personal histories, producing wildly different kinds of people.

Finnish joke: How can you tell if a Finn likes you? He’s staring at your shoes instead of his own.

How did we go from Character to Personality without realizing that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way?

But what if you admire the hyperthymic among us, but also like your calm and thoughtful self? What if you love knowledge for its own sake, not necessarily as a blueprint to action? What if you wish there were more, not fewer, reflective types in the world?

But nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people.

We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world.

Usually it’s said that they were carried away by the situation, but that’s not right. Usually they’re carried away by people who are assertive and domineering.

The U.S. Army has a name for a similar phenomenon: “the Bus to Abilene.” “Any army officer can tell you what that means,” Colonel (Ret.) Stephen J. Gerras, a professor of behavioral sciences at the U.S. Army War College, told Yale Alumni Magazine in 2008. “It’s about a family sitting on a porch in Texas on a hot summer day, and somebody says, ‘I’m bored. Why don’t we go to Abilene?’ When they get to Abilene, somebody says, ‘You know, I didn’t really want to go.’ And the next person says, ‘I didn’t want to go—I thought you wanted to go,’ and so on. Whenever you’re in an army group and somebody says, ‘I think we’re all getting on the bus to Abilene here,’ that is a red flag. You can stop a conversation with it. It is a very powerful artifact of our culture.”

Distinguish between good presentation skills and true leadership ability.

“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas,” he said. “It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”

“In my old company,” Lavoie told Berns, “if you had a great idea, we would tell you, ‘OK, we’ll make an appointment for you to address the murder board’”—a group of people charged with vetting new ideas. Marino described what happened next: 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 your 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.

Peter Drucker has written, “some locked themselves into their office and others were ultra-gregarious. Some were quick and impulsive, while others studied the situation and took forever to come to a decision.… The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no ‘charisma’ and little use either for the term or what it signifies.”

The lesson, says Collins, is clear. We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.

This man lost focus when he interacted too much with people, so he carved out time for thinking and recharging. He spoke quietly, without much variation in his vocal inflections or facial expressions. He was more interested in listening and gathering information than in asserting his opinion or dominating a conversation.

His hypothesis was that extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive, but that introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees.

Grant says it makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words. In the T-shirt-folding study, the team members reported perceiving the introverted leaders as more open and receptive to their ideas, which motivated them to work harder and to fold more shirts.

Extroverts, on the other hand, can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others’ good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity.

They may want to learn to sit down so that others might stand up.

Passive resistance, a precept named by Leo Tolstoy and embraced by Mahatma Gandhi,”

Contemporary evangelicalism says that every person you fail to meet and proselytize is another soul you might have saved.

I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork … for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding. —ALBERT EINSTEIN

He describes this period of quiet midnights and solitary sunrises as “the biggest high ever.”

Introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation.

If this is true—if solitude is an important key to creativity—then we might all want to develop a taste for it. We’d want to teach our kids to work independently. We’d want to give employees plenty of privacy and autonomy. Yet increasingly we do just the opposite.

The cooperative approach has politically progressive roots—the theory is that students take ownership of their education when they learn from one another—but according to elementary school teachers I interviewed at public and private schools in New York, Michigan, and Georgia, it also trains kids to express themselves in the team culture of corporate America. “This style of teaching reflects the business community,” one fifth-grade teacher in a Manhattan public school told me, “where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight. You have to be someone who speaks well and calls attention to yourself. It’s an elitism based on something other than merit.”

As Janet Farrall and Leonie Kronborg write in Leadership Development for the Gifted and Talented: While extroverts tend to attain leadership in public domains, introverts tend to attain leadership in theoretical and aesthetic fields. Outstanding introverted leaders, such as Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Patrick White and Arthur Boyd, who have created either new fields of thought or rearranged existing knowledge, have spent long periods of their lives in solitude. Hence leadership does not only apply in social situations, but also occurs in more solitary situations such as developing new techniques in the arts, creating new philosophies, writing profound books and making scientific breakthroughs.

The fresher your methodologies of thinking, the less you want boundaries.

But the earliest open-source creators didn’t share office space—often they didn’t even live in the same country. Their collaborations took place largely in the ether. This is not an insignificant detail.

The best violinists rated “practice alone” as the most important of all their music-related activities. Elite musicians—even those who perform in groups—describe practice sessions with their chamber group as “leisure” compared with solo practice, where the real work gets done.

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only less useful—they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally. Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class—you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.”

(Ericsson says that it takes approximately ten thousand hours of Deliberate Practice to gain true expertise, so it helps to start young.)

He would never have learned so much about computers, Woz says now, if he hadn’t been too shy to leave the house.

Intense curiosity or focused interest seems odd to their peers.” Teens who are too gregarious to spend time alone often fail to cultivate their talents “because practicing music or studying math requires a solitude they dread.”

But exceptional performance depends not only on the groundwork we lay through Deliberate Practice; it also requires the right working conditions. And in contemporary workplaces, these are surprisingly hard to come by.

One of the side benefits of being a consultant is getting intimate access to many different work environments.

Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory.

He also suggests “No-Talk Thursdays,” one day a week in which employees aren’t allowed to speak to each other.

Kafka, for example, couldn’t bear to be near even his adoring fiancée while he worked: You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind.… That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.

If personal space is vital to creativity, so is freedom from “peer pressure.”

Beginning with the day in 1938 that a magazine editor invited him to lunch and asked what his hobby was. “Imagination,” replied Osborn.

Brainstorming had four rules: Don’t judge or criticize ideas. Be freewheeling. The wilder the idea, the better. Go for quantity. The more ideas you have, the better. Build on the ideas of fellow group members.

Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases.

We fail to realize that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own. Instead we assume that the success of online collaborations will be replicated in the face-to-face world.

Peer pressure, in other words, is not only unpleasant, but can actually change your view of a problem.

The way forward, I’m suggesting, is not to stop collaborating face-to-face, but to refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments. The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are many leadership structures.

Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything. —ROBERT RUBIN, In an Uncertain World

Some say that temperament is the foundation, and personality is the building.

Conversely, high-reactive children may be more likely to develop into artists and writers and scientists and thinkers because their aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar—and intellectually fertile—environment of their own heads.

The parents of high-reactive children are exceedingly lucky, Belsky told me. “The time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeing these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as malleable—for worse, but also for better.” He describes eloquently a high-reactive child’s ideal parent: someone who “can read your cues and respect your individuality; is warm and firm in placing demands on you without being harsh or hostile; promotes curiosity, academic achievement, delayed gratification, and self-control; and is not harsh, neglectful, or inconsistent.”

Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act. —MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI

Stimulation is the amount of input we have coming in from the outside world. It can take any number of forms, from noise to social life to flashing lights.

Your sweet spot is the place where you’re optimally stimulated.

Often used as a way to conquer phobias, desensitization involves exposing yourself (and your amygdala) to the thing you’re afraid of over and over again, in manageable doses.

There is no one more courageous than the person who speaks with the courage of his convictions.

A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them. He may be as bold as a hero in battle, and yet have no self-confidence about trifles in the presence of strangers. —CHARLES DARWIN

Highly sensitive people tend to be keen observers who look before they leap. They arrange their lives in ways that limit surprises.

Maybe we’ve adopted dark glasses, relaxed body language, and alcohol as signifiers precisely because they camouflage signs of a nervous system on overdrive.

Blushing is an authentic sign of embarrassment. And embarrassment, according to Keltner, is a moral emotion.

Embarrassment reveals how much the individual cares about the rules that bind us to one another.

In most settings, people use small talk as a way of relaxing into a new relationship, and only once they’re comfortable do they connect more seriously. Sensitive people seem to do the reverse. They “enjoy small talk only after they’ve gone deep,” says Strickland.

It prompts us to climb ladders and reach for faraway branches in order to gather life’s choicest fruits. But sometimes we’re too sensitive to rewards. Reward sensitivity on overdrive gets people into all kinds of trouble. We can get so excited by the prospect of juicy prizes, like winning big in the stock market, that we take outsized risks and ignore obvious warning signals.

Extroverts socialize because human connection is inherently gratifying.

Another disadvantage of buzz may be its connection to risk—sometimes outsized risk. Buzz can cause us to ignore warning signs we should be heeding.

Introverts are “geared to inspect” and extroverts “geared to respond.”

Yet this is a crucially important misstep, because the longer you pause to process surprising or negative feedback, the more likely you are to learn from it.

Extroverts are better than introverts at handling information overload.

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

Flow is an optimal state in which you feel totally engaged in an activity.

Some activities that are not about approach or avoidance, but about something deeper: the fulfilment that comes from absorption in an activity outside yourself.

So stay true to your own nature. 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 multi-tasking, stick to your guns. Being relatively unmoved by rewards gives you the incalculable power to go your own way. It’s up to you to use that independence to good effect.

“Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ,” he has said. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”

“I feel like I’m on my back,” says Buffett

“If you were Asian, you had to confirm you were smart. If you were white, you had to prove it.”

Words are potentially dangerous weapons that reveal things better left unsaid.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

He would phrase his displeasure in the form of a question, not a request or command.

“not uncomfortable with who they are, but are uncomfortable with expressing who they are.

“People who don’t talk are seen as weak or lacking,”

Clusters of people who change lives through the power not of their charisma but of their caring.

Their communication skills are sufficient to convey their message, but their real strength comes from substance.

Gandhi’s passivity was not a weakness at all. It meant focusing on an ultimate goal and refusing to divert energy to unnecessary skirmishes along the way. Restraint, Gandhi believed, was one of his greatest assets. And it was born of his shyness.

A man has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups. —WILLIAM JAMES

People who are “rejection-sensitive” are warm and loving when they feel secure, hostile and controlling when they feel rejected.

According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits—introversion, for example—but we can and do act out of character in the service of “core personal projects.”

In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly. Free Trait Theory explains why an introvert might throw his extroverted wife a surprise party or join the PTA at his daughter’s school.

According to Little, 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.

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.

Finally, pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.

“Restorative niche” is Professor Little’s term for the place you go when you want to return to your true self.

One noteworthy study suggests that people who suppress negative emotions tend to leak those emotions later in unexpected ways.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances; if there is any reaction, both are transformed. —CARL JUNG

When people have compatible styles of conflict, a disagreement can be an occasion for each partner to affirm the other’s point of view.

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

Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn’t soothe anger; it fuels it.

So he needs to respond to the conflict-avoidant wife he has, not the confrontational one that he wishes.

Extroverts are sociable because their brains are good at handling competing demands on their attention.

Extroverts need to know that introverts—who often seem to disdain the superficial—may be only too happy to be tugged along to a more lighthearted place; and introverts, who sometimes feel as if their propensity for problem talk makes them a drag, should know that they make it safe for others to get serious.

With anything young and tender the most important part of the task is the beginning of it; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression more readily taken. —PLATO

“This is a clear case of an ‘iatrogenic’ problem,’” he says. “That’s when the treatment makes you sick.”

One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty.

Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again. —ANAÏS NIN

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk.

Here’s a rule of thumb for networking events: one new honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards.

Bear in mind that appearance is not reality.

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Suyash Dev Gupta, suyashdevgupta@gmail.com

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