Are you quiet and day dreamy, do you prefer a good book to visiting the pub, do you think before you talk and are you bored of small talk, enjoying deep conversations instead? Chances are, you are an introvert. And this can be hard in today’s world where being an extrovert is misguidedly seen as an ideal. The book “Quiet – The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain is one of the best books I have read in years! It looks at the rise of the extrovert ideal at the turn of the century from character ideal (with traits like manners, integrity and moral) to the personality ideal (with gregarious, forceful and energetic attributes). This happend without realising that we had sacrificed something meaningful along the way.
Ms Cain unravels the myth of the charismatic, extrovert leader and dissects the cohort of extroversion in America, The Harvard Business School.
I didn’t need the Meyer Briggs Personality Test to know that I’m an introvert. The persuasive book teaches you to have a sense of entitlement of being an introvert, something that is heard to achieve living in a world that favours the extrovert ideal. The extrovert is seen as a confident, bubbly, social ideal, even though they often also are narccisstic, thoughtless and talk empty blab la. Yet extroverts are more likely to get book deals and art exhibitions than their introverted counterparts. Introverts only seem to be accepted by society if they are nerdy geeks who became multimillionaires by inventing revolutionary gadgets. Yet society needs as much introverts as it needs extroverts. If you are an introvert, don’t try to pretend you are a gregarious performer, the stress of not being “true to ourselves” can make us physically and mentally ill. It is ok to admit you haven’t got anything planned for the weekend because you’d like to chill. No need to pretend the weekend is jam packed with social arrangements.
Did you know that the postchild country of extroversion is America? The country with the highest amounts of introverts is Finland. In America, the book tells us, parents send their children to psychiatrists to “treat” their introversion. The author of the book visits the acclaimed Harvard Business School, where absolutely everything is done in groups despite the knowledge that best the most groundbreaking ideas rise from working individually, and this applies to both extroverts as well as introverts. College students who tend to study alone learn more over time than those who work in groups.
Having lived in Germany for the first 26 years of my life and the last 8 years in the UK, I can certainly attest to the fact that the UK, just like it’s big cousin, is a country that places a lot of importance on the extrovert ideal. Socialising in big groups and meaningless small talk is the quintessence of Englishness. While Germans tend to have annoying traits like their judgementalism, I enjoy the freedom of declining a drinks invitation without being branded as a “party pooper” and being invited to more couple dates and 1:1 social arrangements rather than big group outings.
I remember two German sayings I heard many times while growing up: “Humbleness is an asset” and “The emptiest pot rattles the loudest”. However, I do not credit being German with my introversion. Introversion, the author explains, is a genetic disposition. While it’s true that we have free will and can shape our personalities, we are also “rubber band personalities” – we are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.
Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and a famous introvert, states in his book: “ If you are going to invent revolutionary products, work on your own. Not in a committee, not in a team”. Solitude and single- minded focus is typical for highly creative people and solitude can be a catalyst for creativity. Despite this knowledge, contemporary corporate companies (like mine, Unilever, I’m not afraid to name and shame ..) insist on open plan offices and brainstorming sessions. In workplaces, where efficiency and creativity is a high priority, people should be encouraged to work alone. In brainstorming sessions, people who are the loudest are often listened to. Even if the quiet ones have the better ideas, their ideas are snuffed out by the louder ones.
If you are an introvert, this wonderfully heartfelt written book is a must read. We learn how to embrace our introverted ideas and how we can address the imbalance in workplaces and daily life. If you are extrovert, you will enjoy this book too, understanding your introverted partner, friend and family member better and appreciating their qualities.