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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: Quiet - The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I'm always suspicious of books that stereotype people. Quiet did not get off to a good start with me. For one thing, it's definition of introverts lacks substance, and pretty much boils down to: "If you feel like you're one, then you're one." It even describes Guy Kawasaki as an introvert, and having met the man, I'm pretty sure he's not much of one, if at all. (Do I consider myself an introvert? I don't usually need down time from interacting with people, but I also prefer small gatherings to large parties. And I'm definitely not shy)

Luckily, the book gets better from there. It explores the difference between temperament and personality, and then dives into how introvert's brains are different. From there, it explores how introversion can be spotted even at 4 months (introverted babies are sensitive and therefore react highly to new things shown to them). It then discusses Asian culture, which is much more introvert-oriented than Western culture, and then discusses how introverts cope with the broader world, including coping strategies for work, and coping strategies with partners.

The subtitle of the book is "The Power of Introverts", and in many places in the book, Susan Cain describes how the introverts' form of thinking is superior: they understand more deeply, work well alone, and don't sprout nonsense. I'm reminded of a friend of mine who complained at Cal about how Western people ask stupid questions in class --- questions they could have answered themselves if they'd actually bothered to read and learn the material. This introverted man went on to become one of the most successful people in the business, but even then everyone knew how smart he was.

The discussion of coping strategies, however, show how painful a true introvert's life appears to be: there's the need to withdraw from people, to spend time relaxing at home, as opposed to doing things in the world. I'm not sure Susan Cain is helping the introverts' case with these description of coping strategies. On the other hand, the section on how couples where one's an introvert and another's an extrovert rings true: the extrovert gets angry, which makes the introvert withdraws, which makes the extrovert even angrier as she thinks that the introvert's shutting her out. This chapter of the book should probably be required reading for couples of mixed temperaments.

The most heart-breaking chapter is the one on parenting. She shows one case study where extroverted parents are determined to fix their introverted son. She also shows another case where the extroverted parent is accepting of the introverted child, but does not provide statistics or studies about how common that is. Certainly, American culture celebrates extroversion and outspoken-ness, and frequently people with "high leadership skills" exude poor judgement because they don't seek feedback from the deep-thinkers but surround themselves with extroverts who'll agree with the leaders.

In any case, while I don't like how the book doesn't have a good definition of introversion, and frequently provides only anecdotes with no statistics to back it up, it's good reading and the science seems solid. Mildly recommended.

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