This is a comprehensive summary of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Printable: Download this summary to read offline.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
Apparently, the world will burn if there are no introverts around. Quiet by Susan Cain explains how thanks to those odd birds who have a hard time expressing themselves we have things like computers and electricity. In a sense, the book is one gigantic study and comparison between introverts and extroverts. Explanation of how these two different types of people think, operate, collide and why you shouldn’t feel embarrassed if you’re one of the quiet ones.
The Core Idea:
While society adores risk-taking alpha people who kind of have loudspeakers embedded in their throats and are addicted by the beam of the spotlight, there are benefits of being sensitive, bookish, and thoughtful introvert with fewer than your mother’s friends online. If you happen to be calm and not so expressive by nature, or you have kids that are like that, don’t freak out. You can still make a valuable contribution to the world.
- The world and every business niche are ruled by loud extroverts.
- Working independently and blocking time to think on your own will both boost your productivity.
- The brains of introverts and extroverts operate differently.
5 Key Lessons from Quiet:
Lesson #1: The World Adores Extroverts
It was fine to be shy and weird till one day the notion of becoming loud attention-seeking narcissistic ruled the world.
This happened in the midst of the 19th century. When the world needed more energetic salesmen to present the rapidly expanding portfolio of goods that would hit the population. Along with that, movies were on a raise and the industry needed more show-offs to entertain the world.
This trend continues.
While being dorky and bookish is becoming a bit more charming these days, every field is mostly dominated by award-oriented talkers who just don’t shut up.
At first glance, you might think, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Introverts love being on their own while extroverts love to communicate. Why don’t let them be?”
That’s what I thought initially, but then the author presented the story of Don…
Don was in high-school. And he and his classmates were participating in a role-playing game. The scenario was simple: They just crash-landed on a deserted island. They salvaged 15 items and their assignment was to rank these items in order of their importance.
One of the kids in the group had a lot of interesting ideas, and actual experience in the field, but since he expressed his views too quietly, no one listened. Yep, the other kids ignored his expertise and cheered the schoolmate who had no prior experience but sounded more energetic about his presentation.
Or in other words, the result of underappreciating quiet people leads to one scary trend: good ideas getting ignored.
If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day. This would mean that an awful lot of bad ideas prevail while good ones get squashed.” Susan Cain
Lesson #2: You Should Work Alone
With the rise of social media platforms, the largest organization, followed by the smaller ones, started to promote a collaborative working space.
And even before the internet ruled the world, people joined local groups and participated in different communities thinking that more people thinking together is preferred than one single dude sitting alone in a room.
While the general proverb is true – two heads think better than one – you should spend more time both working and thinking alone.
Because group thinking destroys creativity.
We shout, we interrupt each other, we criticize, we don’t listen and we’re more likely to obey the loudest person in the room (mentioned in lesson #1).
Since we’re internally programmed to co-op, in a group environment, we tend to obey what the group suggests – even if it’s not true. So, if you have a great idea about creating a revolutionary product, but if your local gathering says it’s stupid, guess what? You will listen to them and you will never create something on your own.
Therefore, if you want to get more work done on a project, or work done in general, work alone.
Here’s an advice from the one and only, Steve Wozniak:
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
Lesson #3: Criticism-Free Brainstorm Sessions
We all fear being publicly humiliated. But if for extroverts being mocked is another way to gain attention, introverts can be damaged for life if someone criticizes their work.
Psychologists studied group thinking sessions and even basketball games. What they found is really interesting. It turns out that when basketball teams played without a crowd, they played much better – even without their adoring fans screaming.
But what about the office?
Psychologist offer three explanations of why you never get anything done in your Monday meetings:
- Social loafing: Some individuals sit, relax and let others do all the talking.
- Production blocking: Since only one person can talk at a time, others have to shut and listen.
- Evaluation apprehension: Only folks who are confident in themselves speak. The ones who are afraid of looking stupid in front of their peers don’t say anything.
Can you do something to change this and to make more people participate in the conversation?
Yes, Susan Cain mentions a solution by the famous Mr. Osborn. His idea is to create a criticism-free environment where ideas are shared freely and without fear of public humiliation.
Here’s the process in short:
- Don’t judge or criticize ideas.
- Be crazy. The wilder the idea, the better.
- Go for quantity. The more ideas you have, the better.
- Build on the ideas mentioned by your peers.
If you can create a criticism-free environment where everyone can share their thoughts without fear of being mocked, you’ll create a hub of great ideas.
Lesson #4: Find Your Sweet Spot
The whole idea of the book is to empower introverts and to help them stand out – even just a little bit – in our world which is dominated by expressive extroverts who seemingly own every niche.
Amidst the countless studies and the elaborate practices, there’s one that stands out. The author calls is “finding your sweet spot.”
This candy-sounding practice refers to a place where you feel uberly comfortable with yourself. The idea is to understand in which situations, work conditions, conversations you feel great and pursue more of those.
If you prefer intimate conversations but if you suddenly find yourself in a group environment, you can simply find someone to talk to in the periphery and escape the busyness of the party.
This way of knowing yourself better will help you preserve your energy and “survive” crowded places.
The above begs a question that directly contradicts the general rule of improving yourself: “But what about going outside of my comfort zone? Shouldn’t I push myself?”
Yes, absolutely. But at a pace that is plausible for you.
If you want to deliver a message in front of other people – a.k.a deliver a public speech – make sure you know well in advance about the event. This will give you enough time to practice and expand your sweet spot. For example, you can start by reading a text in front of your friends.
This is how introverts can expand their limits. By understanding their sweet spots and having enough time to prepare, they can slowly push the border and feel more in control when faced with a previously terrifying situation.
Lesson #5: Introverts Think, Extroverts React
According to the studies in the book, the brains of introverts and extroverts operate differently.
Extroverts are highly influenced by the so-called “old brain” (limbic system) which is the reward-seeking part of your grey matter. Introverts, on the other hand, are more bound to obey the “new brain” (the neocortex) which is keener on planning and decision-making.
The above, with the other interesting facts in the book, allows me to create a short comparison table between the extroverts and the introverts:
- Pros: Not afraid of expressing themselves. Move fast. Willing to take a dirty approach when making decisions. Freely share their opinion. Get along with others. More likely to be promoted. Have more friends. Can manipulate others.
- Cons: Don’t stay much on one project. If they can’t handle a task, they’ll quickly give up. Don’t see their flaws. Always interested in gaining more things – more stuff, more drinks, more mates. Can’t bear to be alone in a room. Rarely complete long-term projects.
- Pros: They think before they act. Ask questions. Seek meaning. Work on long-term projects. More careful when making decisions. Fewer but better relationships. Don’t give up less easily. Work more accurately. Prefer to be alone and focus on deep work.
- Cons: They doubt their work. Afraid of expressing themselves. Rarely engage others in conversation. Have a hard time maintaining a relationship. Fewer friends. Less likely to be promoted. Distance themselves from others.
The interesting thing here is that the cons of the extroverts are pros for the introverts, and vice versa.
In other words, both personality types have a lot to learn from each other.
If you’re an introvert, do your best to adopt the best practices used by the other party. This will help you get better in every field.
- Deliberate Practice: While the world’s largest organizations are doing everything humanly possible to bring us closer together, we can only advance if we work alone in solitude. Anders Ericsson, a famous psychologist mentioned in the book says: “it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice.” Schedule time and work alone. That’s the key to great results.
- Criticism-free environment: It’s essential to promote an idea-sharing environment. Both at home and in the office. If you’re constantly judging others for their ideas people will eventually stop sharing them. And that’s bad. Without ideas and discussions, you’ll have a toxic climate and a degenerating business. Urge people to share more, you never know where the next great idea will come from.
- Expand your sweet spot: Speaking in front of others can be terrifying if you’re an introvert. But there is a way to master this, along with any other field that seems scary – desensitization. In short, this technique is about continuously exposing yourself to things that scare you. But not by directly jumping and performing in front of a group of people. No. Here we’re talking about gradually increasing the difficulty – doing scary stuff in manageable doses.
- Find your calling: It’s no secret that a person can only be truly happy if he or she does what is inherent to his / her personality. But how do you find your calling? Observe these three steps: 1)Think about what did you want to become when you were a child? A doctor? A firefighter? Good. Now think about why you wanted to be a firefighter, a doctor, or Batman? Because you wanted to save people, or something else? 2) Consider the work you do for free. 3) Pay attention to what and whom you envy. Jealously is often considered bad “but it tells the truth, “as the author writes.
- Soft power: Surviving and thriving in a chaotic culture that praises movie-star handsome extroverts is hard, but not impossible. The concept of soft power refers to your ability to convince people in your rightfulness by conveying your message. The idea is that you don’t necessarily have to be a charismatic leader to win people’s hearts, you should simply care enough. If your idea, message, cause is good, your quiet persistence will win more people over in the long term than if you’re a risk-taking chatty guy who’s only interested in short-term gains.
Commentary and My Personal Takeaway
You’re a happy extrovert and you pity the fools who sit quietly in the library while you’re surrounded by a cheerful crowd of fans?
Don’t get too excited. According to the author, you’re more likely to die by participating in extreme sports, injure your tongue from your never-ending talking sessions, or get a divorce. In contrast, if you’re a quiet book worm, except the obvious downside of feeling like a fraud at a party, the worst thing that can happen to you is getting injured while handwriting letters. Oh yes, and living alone for the rest of your life because you’re probably afraid of going out.
Joke aside, in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain explains that quite people can also make valuable contributions to the world and live interesting lives. Actually, the observations in the book reveal that a lot of successful and worldly popular people were/are, contrary to what many people think, quiet introverts who prefer solitude.
If you’re a calm loner and if you don’t think there’s a place for you in this world primarily dominated by loud, narcissistic extroverts, you should lay your hands on this piece if you haven’t already. Quiet by Susan Cain is a well-researched book full of scientific references and other popular works done by great minds.
My personal takeaway is this: The lesson in the book is similar to the ancient proverb, “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Quiet people are calm and soft-spoken but they are raging from the inside and are not willing to give up on their dreams, just like a river.
When you go to a football game and someone offers you a beer, says the personality psychologist Brian Little, “they’re really saying hi, have a glass of extroversion.” Susan Cain
Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run.” Susan Cain
A lot of introverts are “not uncomfortable with who they are, but are uncomfortable with expressing who they are.” Susan Cain
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.