Quiet: The power of Introverts in a world that can't stop talking [Review]

Sep 03, 2012

Table of contents:

  1. Creativity and collaboration
  2. Nature Vs Nurture
  3. The cultural ideal
  4. Conclusion

A slight departure from the usual Culttt reviews, “Quiet…” is a book that explores the differences between extroverted and introverted people and how introverted people are often overshadowed or overlooked by our society that has have been created for extroverts.

Introversion is an attribute of character as much as race or gender is. Yet for the past 100 years or so, our society has seen extroverts as the ideal.

During the industrial revolution, a generation of workers went from farms to factories and villages to cities. The evolution suited extroverts who were confident in unknown social situations that previous generations never had to experience.

Since the industrial revolution, being extrovert has been seen as a key character attribute that leads to success. It is believed that strong leaders should be extroverted and that being quiet and reserved is a character flaw of introverted leaders.

However, studies have shown that introvert leaders are in fact more capable to lead employees that are able to show initiative, and that the extrovert leaders will often over-look suggestions, ideas and feedback from their followers, in detriment to their success.

Creativity and collaboration

Over the past 20 years or so, collaboration has become the perceived best route to creativity and success. Our workplaces are open plan, and our children are encouraged to work as teams from a very young age.

However this may be the incorrect strategy to produce really great work.

Group collaboration is stifling for individual creativity and is not as efficient as you may first think. Working alone on a project will often produce far superior results.

Jason Fried of 37 Signals is a proponent of this outlook. 37 Signals is based in Chicago, but has employees that remote work all over the world. Fried encourages his employees to work alone with passive forms of collaboration like Instant Messaging, rather than the constant noise and interruptions that you get when working in an open environment.

The first consumer personal computer created by Steve Wozniak of Apple was also heralded as a great act of collaboration first with The Homebrew Club, and then later with Steve Jobs. However, Wozniak claims that all of his learning and creativity was founded whilst working late at night and early in the morning in solitude.

Nature Vs Nurture

An interesting argument in how children develop introvert or extrovert traits is the debate of Nature Vs Nurture. Whilst personality characteristics are never black and white, a number of studies have shown that we show a surprising number of our traits from an early age.

One such study by Jarome Kagen looked at how four month old children reacted to a number of different stimulations. It was hypothesised that the children who reacted violently to these stimuli would grow up to become introverted adults.

The study was continued as the children grew up and sure enough, the children who had the greater reactions at an early age were mostly introverted adults.

When put in a stressful situation, our brains react by giving out a sense of unease and primal instinct of danger. The children that reacted more violently to the stimuli had greater reactions because they were at most unease. As these children grew up, they became more introverted to situations where they felt that unease.

Carl Schwartz, a former student of Kagen, decided to further Kagen’s study by following the children from adolescence into adulthood to see if the external influences of their environment and their free will and decisions could alter the reactiveness of their brains.

Using fMRI technology, Schwartz found that the same traits that had been found in young children, could also be found when they reached adulthood.

Schwartz research suggests that we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. In other words, you can overcome your fear of social engagements or public speaking through repeated desensitising that part of your brain, but you will still show those traits that you were born with.

Enjoyment can be seen as the sweet point between boredom and fear. Each of us has a different sweet point depending on our ability to handle stimulation. For example, an introverted person might be extremely happy to be alone to read a book because she is getting the optimum level of stimulation, whereas an extroverted person who needs a higher level of stimulation would be bored. By understanding how levels of stimulation effect you, you can find careers, hobbies and social situations where you feel the happiest.

The cultural ideal

Western society has made being an extrovert the social norm, and is often seen as the characteristic of successful people. In Western countries, we are eager to describe ourselves as “social”, “energetic”, “charismatic” and “outgoing”.

However, being extrovert is not the ideal for humans as a species. Asian people have a deep routed sense of introversion that leads them to a very different outlook of life.

Asian culture puts emphasis on being quiet, studying alone and thoughtfulness. Speaking out can be to the detriment of the group if what you have to say is not worthy of your colleagues’ time. This is in stark contrast to most modern Western society.

The cultural divide can be seen in California where there are many first and second generation Asian families. Asian children are generally more academic and spend more time studying than their American class mates. Asian families prioritise studying, working alone and being introverted.

Whilst this often leads Asian children to do better in school and college, in the world of corporate America, these attributes are often what holds back Asian employees.

America, and most of Western society, still holds that it is extroverted and outgoing people that are best suited to working their way up the corporate ladder, or taking on roles of leadership. This often means that quieter people with better ideas are overlooked and instead their louder colleagues get the promotions and opportunities.

The many different civilisations around the world can be generally categorised as either mostly extrovert or introvert. Whilst Western society has become mostly extrovert, Asian society still holds introvert traits higher. It is clear that both characteristics are just as important, and so a balance should be maintained for group success.


“Quiet…” is an extremely interesting book on the topic of introversion and how our personalities affect our lives.

Introvert children and adults can often be perceived as odd because they do not want to participate in the cultural social norms of our society, preferring instead to go off on their own. “Quiet…” celebrates these types of people and shows that it is completely normal to be this way.

Susan has collected together a large body of knowledge from scientific research, to psychology studies from the last 100 years and weaved it together in a interesting and engaging book. Through case studies and real life stories of people struggling with introversion, Susan has written a book that is very easy to relate to if you are an introvert yourself.

If you would like to learn more about “Quiet…”, watch Susan’s TED talk, The power of introverts.

Buy Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking on Amazon (Affiliate Link).

Philip Brown


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