Is it OK to be quiet in a world that values being visible, outgoing, and showing a powerful personality? One that is organised for people to live and work in groups from the moment they start education through their working lives, even extending into residential care? Being loud, communicative and confidently expressing your needs seems the aim in today’s society, regardless of whether you have something valuable to contribute. Preferring time to think and be quiet is less acceptable.
Cain distinguishes between the Cult of Character and the Cult of Personality, a shift in the different kinds of qualities that society has recognised over the last century. The traditional Cult of Character honours qualities such as citizenship, duty, honour, good deeds, morals and manners. By contrast the Cult of Personality is all about being fascinating, stunning, glowing, dominant and forceful.
As someone who remembers the criticism of my quiet style at school , and ‘failing’ a graduate assessment centre for not contributing enough in a boisterous role play, I breathed a sigh of relief when reading Cain’s book for the first time several years ago. Many people confuse my learned willingness to lead and engage in groups as extraversion. I love people; I’m often described as a ‘people person.’ Yet I also need to offset time in company with time alone to re-charge. My best creative work happens when I have time alone to ‘moodle’ and play with ideas that I’ve discussed with others. As I get older, I’m increasingly discerning about choosing the company I keep.
‘Quiet’ highlights the difference between those who love being in the spotlight all the time and others who are more comfortable when a spotlight is shone on aspects of what they do or say and researches how much of this difference relates to nature or nurture.
At last, here is someone who honours the introverted personality, the person who likes to reflect and have time to consider their position before they go public. She deliberately celebrates the strength and power of introverts as she explores how those who are naturally quiet, serious and sensitive can get overlooked. Great inventors, artists and leaders. Introverts learn to adapt to societies demands on them in order to be listened to. Yet they find group activities can drain their energy and distract their thinking.
This book explains a lot while inviting further questions. As a coach, I work with many leaders who need to communicate well and be innovative in new products and ways of working and was drawn to her ideas and the stories she shares.
Cain suggests that the fear of public speaking is exacerbated for introverts who can be highly susceptible to external distraction. When the introvert gets up to speak, he can’t get his thoughts in order easily as the external stimuli of the audience drains his energy. When the extravert gets up to speak, he makes sense of his ideas by speaking out loud and gains energy from the group. This adds insight into the question of why some people need to be very well prepared for public speaking and others like to wing it.
She also talks about creativity being reduced in group settings. Back in the 1950s, Alex Osborn created the concept of brainstorming, yet research shows that many great ideas get shut down by the extraverts in the group dominating the process. Traditional brainstorming does not lead to releasing the best ideas. In a fascinating chapter entitled ‘When Collaboration kills Creativity’ she provides evidence to challenge the view that people who hope to be innovative should work in highly social workplaces telling the tale of Steve Wozniak’s early design work to create the first Apple computer. Woz’s advice to those who aspire to great creativity was: “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.”
If you’re interested in wanting to provide the environment where everyone can thrive, whether that’s in education, the workplace or family and relationships, this book has much to offer to get the best from everybody’s styles. It’s an intelligent, persuasive and warm read. Sit back, listen to her ideas and enjoy.