Quiet – by Susan Cain

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Quiet – by Susan Cain

‘The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’

Quiet shows how the world today seems to value confident, outgoing, bubbly personalities who are comfortable in all social settings and aren’t afraid to speak up. But Cain reveals that those with the loudest voice don’t necessarily have the best ideas. This book is both a call to organisations to foster the power of introverts, as well as an appeal to introverts to best step outside of their comfort zones and play the role required of them.

Grab a copy of the book here: https://www.bookdepository.com/Quiet/9780141029191/?a_aid=adamsbooks


Quiet Summary

The most important aspect of personality, the ‘North and South’ of our temperament is where we fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Where we fall influences our choices of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we will succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function without sleep, learn from mistakes, place bets on stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader. 

Yet today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. Quiet tells us something different.

Introversion and extroversion was popularized by the bombshell of a book  by Carl Jung – ‘Psychological Types’ popularized introversion and extroversion:

 Introverts: are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling,  focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them and recharge batteries by being alone.

Extroverts: are drawn to external life of people and activities, plunge into the events themselves and need to recharge when they don’t socialise enough.

Quiet shows us that introversion and it’s cousins – sensitivity, seriousness and shyness – is now a second class personality trait. Introverts living the extrovert ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel like we need to conform.

As adults we work with supervisors who value ‘people skills’. To advance your career we’re expected to promote ourselves unabashedly. As a child you’ve probably heard your parent apologise for your shyness “why can’t you just be more like your outgoing cousins”. Now that you’re an adult, you might feel guilt when you decline a dinner invitation for an evening with a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re in your head too much… a phrase often used. But there is another word for that – ‘thinkers’.



Susan looks at a study that analysed data from the 5 biggest pizza chains in the USA pizza chains in the USA. They discovered weekly profits of the stores managed by extroverts were 16% higher than those led by introverts – but only when the employees were passive types to do their job without initiative. Introvert leaders had the exact opposite results. When they worked with employees who actively tried to improve work procedures, the stores outperformed those led by extroverts by more than 14%.

In another study, 163 students charged with folding as many T shirts as possible in 10 minutes. Each team included two actors. In some teams the leaders were passive, following the leader’s instructions: “my friend from Japan had a faster way to fold. It might take a few minutes, but do we want to try it?” Introverted leaders 20% more likely to follow the suggestion, and their team had 24% better results than the extroverts.

The findings show that extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive, but introverted leaders are better with proactive employees. Proactive employees who take advantage of opportunities in a fast moving 24/7 business environment without waiting for a  leader to tell them what to do are increasingly vital to business success. It’s important for companies to groom both talkers and listeners for leadership roles.


Reward Sensitivity

A reward sensitive person is highly motivated to seek rewards – from a promotion to a lottery jackpot to an enjoyable evening out with friends. Reward sensitivity motivates us to pursue goals like sex and money, social status and influence. It prompts us to climb ladders and reach for faraway branches in order to gather life’s choicest fruits. But sometimes we’re too sensitive to rewards.

Reward sensitivity on overdrive gets people into all kinds of trouble. We can get so excited by the prospect of juicy prizes, like winning big in the stock market, that we take outsized risks and ignore obvious warning signal. Financial history is full of examples of players accelerating when they should be breaking. Extroverts seem to be more susceptible than introverts to the reward seeking cravings of the brain. Scientists are starting to explore the idea that reward sensitivity is not only an interesting feature of extroversion – but what makes an extrovert an extrovert.

Extroverts in other words are characterized by their tendency to seek rewards from top dog status to sexual highs or just cold cash. They have greater economic, political and hedonistic ambitions than introverts. Even their sociability is a function of reward sensitivity according to this view – extroverts socialize because human connection is inherently gratifying.

Quiet tells how in the wake of the 2008 crash, a financial catastrophe caused in part by uncalculated risk taking and blindness to threat. Those with the serotonin regulating gene linked to introversion and sensitivity take 28% less financial risk than others. A study of 64 traders at an investment bank found that the highest performing traders tended to be emotionally stable introverts!

The problem is that on one side you have a rainmaker who is making lots of money for the company and is treated like a superstar. And on the other side you have an introverted nerd. So who do you think wins?

If you were to optimally staff an investment bank, you’d want to hire not only reward sensitive types who are likely to profit from bull markets, but also those who remain emotionally neutral. You’d want to make sure that the corporate decisions reflect both types of people, not just one type.

Free Trait Theory

If you’re an introvert in corporate America, should you try to save your true self for quiet weekends and spend your weekdays striving to “get out there , mix, speak more often and connect with your team and others, deploying all the energy and personality you can muster” – as Jack Welsh advised in the business column. Can people fine tune their own personalities that way?

Quiet shows a new field of psychology called “free trait theory”. We are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits – introversion for example – but we can and  do act out of character in the service of a our core personal projects. We can still be an introvert and cherry pick the qualities of the introvert in service of our goals.

The advice from Quiet is for introverts is to figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it. If this requires public speaking, or networking, or other activities that make you uncomfortable, then do them any way. But accept that they’re difficult, get the training you need to make it easier and reward yourself when it’s done.


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