I can’t say enough about this book. Susan Cain does a phenomenal job on multiple fronts. First is her premise: that introverts need help to navigate an extrovert-focused Western culture. When you take a step back and think about our educational system, businesses, even innocuous social encounters, it’s all about posturing. Who’s the Alpha? And the way you become the Alpha is through brash extroversion which is always rewarded: “why can you be more like so-and-so? They speak up all the time. They demand that people pay attention to them. Introverts, obviously, aren’t wired like that. They tend to hang back, looking for opportunities to interject but too often brushed aside by extroverts.
Second, Susan supports all of her points with a significant amount of research. This is not a book she just sat in her room and wrote. This is a book based on 10 years of her life experience (as an introvert), interviews with scientists, anecdotal stories, and enough actual research (and science) to make a doctoral student blush. She does what any good writer does: she poses a thesis and supports it with facts. There are so many “ah-ha” moments in this book that it would be impossible to write them all down so I’ll just get my favorite: introverts are just as important as extroverts in the evolution of the species. As extroverts went out in search of new food and new places to live (i.e., migration), the introverts stayed back. So if all those extroverts encountered a big predator and were eaten, the gene pool survives. Alternatively, if the extroverts are out and a big predator eats the introverts, the extroverts survive and the gene pool is safe. This little nugget leads one to believe that cognitive personality wiring is similar to chromosomal selection: there are going to be a relatively equal number of introverts and extroverts as there are male and female. In addition to the scientific evidence, Susan also does a great job of supporting her ideas with stories. One of my favorite is about the crash in 2008 and how there were a handful of people (3 according to a book, The Big Short, that Susan references) who were astute enough to forecast the coming disaster. Why? They were introverts, asking the hard questions, analyzing the facts, instead of getting caught up in the extrovert-domapine-reward-trap that so many others were.
Finally, Susan is an excellent writer. The prose is crisp and engaging. Her ideas build upon each other (you never have to ask yourself, “okay, what section am I reading again?”). And her scientific facts, examples, and stories are all woven beautifully into the prose.
There is a lot of love about this book and not just what I listed above. The book and its central premise is applicable to anyone. Whether you are a school teacher managing kids (I think K-12 curriculum should include time spent to understand and appreciate introversion vs. extroversion), an engineer working by yourself, a stay-at-home-mom (or dad), or the captain of the football team, the book provides ways that we can not only work better together as opposing personality types but also how we can temper our own personalities to be more productive. Awareness is half the battle.
And, in case you are wondering, I am a staunch introvert (INTP on Myers Briggs). This was truly an eye-opening read.