The GIST: Susan Cain’s TED talk is one of that series’ most popular, supporting the premise of her book that introversion is not a direct route to the sidelines. An introvert herself, Cain felt indignant at society’s view of introversion as less desirable than extroversion in business, academics and social life. Cain attended schools ( Princeton and Harvard ) and worked in places ( Wall Street ) that valued extroversion, and defined its opposing trait as unfavorable and deficient. Through strong research and patient explanation of sociology, neurology and psychology, Cain offers support for the merits of the quiet leader. Anecdotes of brilliant introverts and their contributions throughout history back her up and lend authority to her argument. Her objective is not to raise introversion above extroversion, but to call for acceptance of and appreciation for quiet folks and their worthwhile qualities. Diversity and balance belong at every table.
The WRITING: Intelligent and compelling. Seven years in the writing, Cain’s work examines how these two traits define every area of our lives – work, relationships and self-esteem. Her historical review of the shift in culture from valuing character in the late 19th century, to personality after the industrial revolution, is interesting and rational. It’s a recent cultural development that GroupThink is held up as the optimal method for generating ideas and solving problems. Individuals who don’t function well in that arena, preferring solitude, are encouraged to change and get with the program. Cain carefully defines introversion here as a temperament, and not an antisocial disposition. Her hope is that our personal identities can be appreciated in their diversity, and that one model is not better than the other. Both are valuable and needed for the full utilization of a broad range of talent and skills among different personality types.
BUY or BORROW? Borrow, but consider reading this book whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. Its beneficial elements are those which help the reader understand others, and value our differences as coworkers, partners, parents, siblings and friends.
“The secret to life is to 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, and insight — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply.”