The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking


  • On Amazon
  • ISBN: 978-0307352156
  • My Rating: 6/10

Quiet is about the misunderstanding and undervaluation of the traits and capabilities of introverted people in our Western culture, and how the so-called "extrovert ideal" has become dominant.

My impression of Quiet is mixed. On the one hand I found the mentioned research interesting, but on the other hand the author remains superficial and uses too many anecdotes for my taste. Or, as being an introvert myself, I wished the book was more of a deep discussion instead of small talk.

My notes

Introduction: The North and South of Temperament

Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality [...] is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Our place on this continuum influences our choice 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 succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask "what if".

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. He works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who's comfortable "putting himself out there". Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion – along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.

There are almost as many definitions of introvert and extrovert as there are personality psychologists [...].

Still, today's psychologists tend to agree on several important points: for example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel "just right" with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo. [...] Many psychologists would also agree that introverts and extroverts work differently. Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly. They make fast (sometimes rash) decisions, and are comfortable multitasking and risk-taking. They enjoy "the thrill of the chase" for rewards like money and status. Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They're relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame.

Our personalities also shape our social styles. Extroverts are the people who will add life to your dinner party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in great need of company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They're comfortable with conflict, but not with solitude. Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.

A few things introverts are not: The word introvert is not a synonym for hermit or misanthrope. Introverts can be these things, but most are perfectly friendly. [...] Nor are introverts necessarily shy. Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

The Extrovert Ideal

The Rise of the "Mighty Likeable Fellow": How Extroversion Became the Cultural Ideal


The Myth of Charismatic Leadership: The Culture of Personality, a Hundred Years Later

[...] the self-help industry [...] by definition reveals our conception of the ideal self, the one we aspire to become if only we follow the seven principles of this and the three laws of that.

At the onset of the Culture of Personality, we were urged to develop an extroverted personality for frankly selfish reasons – as a way of outshining the crowd in a newly anonymous and competitive society. But nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people. We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one's gifts with the world.

Among the most effective leaders I have encountered and worked with in half a century, some locked themselves into their office and others were ultra-gregarious. Some were quick and impulsive, while others studied the situation and took forever to come to a decision... The one and only personality trait the effective ones I have encountered did have in common was something they did not have: they had little or no "charisma" and little use either for the term or what it signifies.

Peter Drucker

Grant says it makes sense that introverts are uniquely good at leading initiative-takers. Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited from the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motivate them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words. [...] Extroverts, on the other hand, can be so intent on putting their own stamp on events that they risk losing others' good ideas along the way and allowing workers to lapse into passivity. [...] But with their natural ability to inspire, extroverted leaders are better at getting results from more passive workers.

[Introverts] welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice. The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world.

When Collaboration Kills Creativity: The Rise of the New Groupthink and the Power of Working Alone

I am a horse for a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork ... for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.

Albert Einstein

Most inventors and engineers I've met are like me – they're shy and they live in their heads. They're almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention's design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee. If you're that rare engineer who's an inventor and also an artist, I'm going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone. You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you're working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team.

Steve Wozniak

[...] there's a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts' creative advantage – an explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can ba a catalyst to innovation. As the influential psychologist Hans Eysenck once observed, introversion "concentrates the mind on the tasks in hand, and prevents the dissipation of energy on social and sexual matters unrelated to work".

Leadership does not only apply in social situations, but also occurs in more solitary situations such as developing new techniques in the arts, creating new philosophies, writing profound books and making scientific breakthroughs.

What's so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it's only when you're alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly.

Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that's most challenging to you personally. Only when you're alone, Ericsson told me, can you "go directly to the part that's challenging to you. If you want to improve what you're doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class – you're the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time."

But exceptional performance depends not only on the groundwork we lay through Deliberate Practice; it also requires the right working conditions.

If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.

Adrian Furnham

[...] we're so impressed by the power of online collaboration that we've come to overvalue all group work at the expense of solo thought. We fail to realize that participating in an online working group is a form of solitude all its own. Instead we assume that the success of online collaborations will be replicated in the face-to-face world.

The way forward, I'm suggesting, is not to stop collaborating face-to-face, but to refine the way we do it. For one thing, we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people's natural strengths and temperaments. [...] We also need to create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions, and to disappear into their private workspaces when they want to focus or simply be alone.

Your Biology, Your Self?

Is Temperament Destiny? Nature, Nurture, and the Orchid Hypothesis

Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything.

Robert Rubin

Beyond Temperament: The Role of Free Will (and the Secret of Public Speaking for Introverts)

Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person's capacity to act.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

[Carl] Schwartz's research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities. These seem like contradictory principles, but they are not. Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz's research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits.

Whatever the underlying cause, there's a host of evidence that introverts are more sensitive than extroverts to various kinds of stimulation, from coffee to a loud bang to the dull roar of a networking event – and that introverts and extroverts often need very different levels of stimulation to function at their best.

"Franklin was a politician, but Eleanor spoke out of conscience": Why Cool Is Overrated

[...] highly sensitive people tend to be keen observers who look before they leap. They arrange their lives in ways that limit surprises. They are often sensitive to sights, sounds, smells, pain, coffee. They have difficulty when being observed (at work, say, or performing at a music recital) or judged for general worthiness (dating, job interviews).

The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialist or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive [...]. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions – sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.

Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments – both physical and emotional – unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss – another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.

Why did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffett Prosper? How Introverts and Extroverts Think (and Process Dopamine) Differently

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 signals.

Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating. Introverts think before they act, digest information thoroughly, stay on task longer, give up less easily, and work more accurately. Introverts and extroverts also direct their attention differently: if you leave them to their own devices, the introverts tend to sit around wondering about things, imagining things, recalling events from their past, and making plans for the future. The extroverts are more likely to focus on what's happening around them. It's as if extroverts are seeing "what is" while their introverted peers are asking "what if".

Persistence isn't very glamorous. If genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration, then as a culture we tend to lionize the one percent. We love its flash and dazzle. But great power lies in the other ninety-nine percent.

Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?

Soft Power: Asian-Americans and the Extrovert Ideal

Many Asian cultures are team-oriented, but not in the way that Westerners think of teams. Individuals in Asia see themselves as part of a greater whole – whether family, corporation, or community – and place tremendous value on harmony within their group. They often subordinate their own desires to the group's interests, accepting their place in its hierarchy. Western culture, by contrast, is organized around the individual. We see ourselves as self-contained units; our destiny is to express ourselves, to follow our bliss, to be free of undue restraint, to achieve the one thing that we, and we alone, were brought into this world to do. We may be gregarious, but we don't submit to group will, or at least we don't like to think we do. We love and respect our parents, but bridle at notions like filial piety, with their implications of subordination and restraint. When we get together with others, we do so as self-contained units having fun with, competing with, standing out from, jockeying for position with, and, yes, loving, other self-contained units.

It makes sense, then, that Westerners value boldness and verbal skill, traits that promote individuality, while Asians prize quiet, humility, and sensitivity, which foster group cohesion. If you live in a collective, then things will go a lot more smoothly if you behave with restraint, even submission.

Though Eastern relationship-honoring is admirable and beautiful, so is Western respect for individual freedom, self-expression, and personal destiny. The point is not that one is superior to the other, but that a profound difference in cultural values has a powerful impact on the personality styles favored by each culture. In the West, we subscribe to the Extrovert Ideal, while in much of Asia (at least before the Westernization of the past several decades), silence is golden.

How to Love, How to Work

When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?

A man has as many social selves as there are distinct groups of persons about whose opinion he cares. He generally shows a different side of himself to each of these different groups.

William James

Do fixed personality traits really exist, or do they shift according to the situation in which people find themselves?

According to 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 "core personal projects". In other words, introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.

[...] there are three key steps to identifying your own core personal projects. First, think back to what you loved to do when you were a child. How did you answer the question of what you wanted to be when you grew up? The specific answer you gave may have been off the mark, but the underlying impulse was not. [...] Second, pay attention to the work you gravitate to. [...] Finally, pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.

The Communication Gap: How to Talk to Members of the Opposite Type

Probably the most common – and damaging – misunderstanding about personality type is that introverts are antisocial and extroverts are pro-social. But as we've seen, neither formulation is correct; introverts and extroverts are differently social.

It can be hard for extroverts to understand how badly introverts need to recharge at the end of a busy day. We all empathize with a sleep-deprived mate who comes home from work too tired to talk, but it's harder to grasp that social overstimulation can be just as exhausting. It's also hard for introverts to understand just how hurtful their silence can be.

On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can't Hear Them

One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty. Remember that introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events. So don't mistake your child's caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others. He's recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not from human contact.

The key is to expose your child gradually to new situations and people – taking care to respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. This produces more-confident kids than either overprotection or pushing too hard.

We tend to forget that there's nothing sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organize students this way not because it's the best way to learn but because it's cost-efficient, and what else would we do with our children while the grown-ups are at work?

Conclusion: Wonderland

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, do them anyway. But accept that they're difficult, get the training you need to make them easier, and reward yourself when you're done.