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Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Published, January 2012

Quiet will definitely be included in my list for the top nonfiction books of 2012. This is strong praise indeed, given that we are barely in May. The book is that good that I find it inconceivable that 10 other better nonfiction books will be published this year.

The strength of Quiet surprised me, as I went into reading the book a strong skeptic about the whole concept of personality types. I'm a sociologist, and I believe my bones that structure and situations determine behaviors as much as personality.  I've also been unimpressed by either the reliability or validity of tests that purport to predict or explain behavior, such as the MBTI. Nor can I confidently report where I fall on the introvert / extrovert scale, and would have a hard time making this judgment about either my spouse or my children.

If you, like me, are skeptical of personality types then you are ideally suited to approach Quiet. Every page of Quiet contained for me some revelation that caused me to re-think and re-evaluate how I approach my relationships and my work, and how I interpret the actions of colleagues and family.  

Cain's thesis is individuals vary on how we respond and react to stimuli. For some of us, external stimulus is energy giving and restorative. Other people may enjoy external stimulus, but interactions with other people subtract from the pool of psychic energy and can be depleting. Those people that we call "introverts" are those that expend energy in interactions, "extroverts" gain energy.

What Cain points out is that our schools and our workplaces have been moving to a state where only the skills and behaviors of extroverts are valued. We want our kids to be assertive and confident. We get worried if our children are reserved, dreamy and quiet. At work we all operate in teams. We look to our colleagues to speak up and to proactively contribute to our discussions and team projects. The vision of the open office, designed to ease collaboration and break down barriers to communication, has captured the imagination of many managers. (I know. I work in just such an open office plan).   

Cain believes, and cites lots of evidence to support her ideas, that our efforts to construct our schools and workplaces around only extroverts are counterproductive to our organizations and damaging to individuals. Families, schools and workplaces can be better off with a mix of personality types and styles. We need to design classrooms and workplaces that honor the needs of our colleagues for quiet focus and intensive solo pursuits.

Quiet is one of those books that is so beautifully written and so persuasively argued that one wants to convince everyone else to read along and discuss its conclusions. Sometimes I fantasize about having the sort of wealth that would allow me to hand out books to everyone I come across. Quiet tops my list of books to share so far in 2012.

What are you reading? 

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