In Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain recounts her personal journey from Wall Street lawyer to acclaimed writer with a burgeoning consulting practice. Along the way, she learned to leverage her unique gifts that often characterize Introverts. She naturally asks good questions, listens actively, prepares thoroughly, and never leaps before she looks.
But, early on she felt different in a world dominated by fast talking, action oriented Extraverts 1. For example, out of fear of being ostracized for being “bookish” in summer camp she kept her cherished paperbacks out of view and joined in pillow fights and other Extravert appealing mischief.
Her inspiration for Quiet is to provide insights for Introverts of the world, which according to MBTI based research, represents some thirty percent of the population. She wants her fellow Introverts to feel comfortable with their preference for quiet over all of the noise we Extraverts make and to apply their natural talents. You are not alone as an Introvert could be her core message. Indeed, you are joined by many successful people including a short list of famous Introverts like Einstein, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Cain complements her personal saga with Malcolm Gladwell like stories of visits with high priests of what she calls the Extroverted Ideal. She invests $895 for a Tony Robbins workshop where she reports the attendance to be 3,800. (Good grief, do the math!) Here, Robbins exhorts the crowd to be less hesitant, more vibrant and to smile more. The consequence of remaining in an Introverted shell is that “everyone you care about will die like pigs in hell.” No kidding, according to Cain, Robbins actually said that (p.37)
She tells equally entertaining stories about her visits to Harvard Business School and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. At HBS, she finds the “Spiritual Capital of Extroversion” where future leaders are indoctrinated in the Extroverted Ideal. Students are immersed in teams and, by design, there is no time for any work to be done alone (p. 47). They are taught virtues like speaking with conviction, even when you don’t believe it.
At Saddleback, she wonders who influenced whom? Did Tony Robbins shape Rick Warren? Or, was it the other way around?
Oh, and by the way, did you know God is an Extravert? Cain uncovered this gem from a senior evangelical clergyman who encourages those recruiting pastors to ask about Myers-Briggs types: “If there isn’t an E (for extrovert), think twice…I am sure our lord was an extrovert.” (p.65).
Since Quiet is about personality type, and I am an ENTP writing this review, I get to do what is natural for my type: criticize. First, rather than inventing what she describes as an “informal, not scientifically validated personality test” why didn’t she refer her readers to the real deal? The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is supported by many studies documenting its validity and reliability. It can be done online in twenty minutes or less for a reasonable fee. In not offering a referral to the MBTI, she has done her readers a disservice.
Second, I wish Cain stuck with the well-established Jungian meaning of Introversion. Instead, she wanders all over the landscape in what she describes as a “cultural” definition of the term. In so doing she makes dangerous assumptions. For example, do Introverts lack self-confidence? Certainly not the ones I know and with whom I work and live.
Third and final, on the topic of what to do about your personality preference, certified MBTI experts do a much better job than Cain with her advice to parents or her coaching on how to communicate effectively with those of the opposite type. Remember, Cain is a lawyer by training. Her personality based advice giving is a bit like psychologists writing about torts.
But, overall, I think Susan Cain makes an important contribution, not only for Introverts, but for Extraverts who work with and live with them. If nothing else, her debunking of the Extrovert Ideal is not only a must read, it is a fun read.
1 In keeping with her “cultural” definition (still not sure what that is), Cain uses the lower case and spells Extravert with an “o”. I side with Jung and the MBTI community and use Extravert and Introvert. We also embrace “operational” definitions of terms and evidence of reliability and validity in the assessments we use.