Hands down, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain is one of the best books I read in 2012. The book takes a deep look at the role introverts in Western society play, and it points out that we're living in a time when extroverts are the ideal. Our heroes are loud and boisterous, and they rally everyone to charge forward. The intellectual and the reserved, who might lead from afar, are not recognized. But this is not always the way things have been.
Take a look at this excerpt from the book...
By 1920, popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner virtue to outer charm—“to know what to say and how to say it,” as one manual put it. “To create a personality is power,” advised another. “Try in every way to have a ready command of the manners which make people think ‘he’s a mighty likeable fellow,’ ” said a third. “That is the beginning of a reputation for personality.”
Only a hundred years ago, we switched from a focus on inner virtues and noble characteristics to personality-driven strength. The author related the role of Dale Carnegie's rise from obscurity to business wealth and fame. Carnegie was one that inspired countless others during and after his life, and rightfully so. He worked hard and found success. Carnegie's books, though, further drove the shift from the quiet thinker to the powerful leader.
With the increased emphasis on personality, more people have begun describing themselves as shy throughout the 1900s and into the 2000s.
The number of Americans who considered themselves shy increased from 40 percent in the 1970s to 50 percent in the 1990s, probably because we measured ourselves against ever higher standards of fearless self-presentation.
But there is a critical distinction between shy and introverted.
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.
Carl Jung on Introverts and Extroverts
Jung was the first to popularize the terms introvert and extrovert after he published a book called Psychological Types in 1921. Here is the author's summary of Jung's findings:
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.
There is no such thing as a pure extrovert or a pure introvert. Such a man would be in the lunatic asylum.
The Value of Ideas
If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day.
Speaking up to get ideas through can be difficult and / or frustrating for introverts. It might be that introverts are one of the many shy people out there, or it can be that introverts aren't necessarily focused on trying to convince everyone else that their idea is sound. After all, if an introvert is in her own head most of the time, what does it matter what others think? Still, the world needs the good ideas of the introverts and the extroverts, so it's important to get these ideas across.
There is value in the way that introverts work, and introverts need to stress that. Here are a few more quotes.
One of the most interesting findings, echoed by later studies, was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.
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 Need for Both
The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are many leadership structures.
To wrap this up, I have to say that I deeply appreciate the author's inclusion of the idea that neither introverts or extroverts are "better". There isn't a universal standard for how people are supposed to be. She relates a retreat designed for introverts that she attended and felt that the experience was nearly painful at times as everyone wanted to stick to themselves.
Both personality types are important, and they are even accommodating of one another in many ways. They can, of course, cause difficulty between the side that's always read to go out and the side that would rather stay home for the nght, but this back and forth helps to create a balance.