Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

The Book in a Few Sentences

Explores the differences between introversion and extroversion and the cultural mandate of the Extrovert Ideal while encouraging introverts to embrace their true nature, unique strengths, and value to self and society. 

Quiet summary

This is my book summary of Quiet by Susan Cain. My summary and notes include the key lessons and most important insights from the book.

Part One: The Extrovert Ideal

1: The Rise of the “Mighty Likeable Fellow”

How Extroversion Became the Cultural Ideal

  • Carnegie’s [Dale] metamorphosis from farm boy to salesman to public-speaking icon is also the story of the rise of the Extrovert Ideal.
  • America had shifted from what the influential cultural historian Warren Susman called a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality—and opened up a Pandora’s Box of personal anxieties from which we would never quite recover.
  • But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them.
  • The rise of industrial America was a major force behind this cultural evolution.
  • One of the most powerful lenses through which to view the transformation from Character to Personality is the self-help tradition in which Dale Carnegie played such a prominent role.
  • But by 1920, popular self-help guides had changed their focus from inner virtue to outer charm—“to know what to say and how to say it,” as one manual put It. 
  • Americans also received advice on self-presentation—whether they liked it or not— from the advertising industry…the new personality-driven ads cast consumers as performers with stage fright from which only the advertiser’s product might rescue them.
  • University admissions officers looked not for the most exceptional candidates, but for the most extroverted.

2: The Myth of Charismatic Leadership

The Culture of Personality, a Hundred Years Later

  • At the onset of the Culture of Personality, we were urged to develop an extroverted personality for frankly selfish reasons—as a way of out shining 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.
  • If Abraham Lincoln was the embodiment of virtue during the Culture of Character, then Tony Robbins is the counterpart during the Culture of Personality. 
  • “The business world,” says a 2006 article from the Wharton Program for Working Professionals, “is filled with office environments similar to one described by an Atlanta area corporate trainer: ‘Here everyone knows that it's important to be an extrovert and troublesome to be an introvert. So people work real hard at looking like extroverts, whether that's comfortable or not. It's like making sure you drink the same single-malt scotch your CEO drinks and that you work out at the right health club.’”
  • The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as a meeting goes on. It also helps to speak fast; we rate quick talkers as more capable and appealing than slow talkers.
  • All of this would be fine if more talking were correlated with greater insight, but research suggests that there's no such link.
  • "Among the most effective leaders I have encountered and worked with in half a century," the management guru Peter Drucker has written… 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.”

3: When Collaboration Kills Creativity

The Rise of the New Groupthink and the Power of Working Alone

  • One of the most interesting findings, echoed by later studies, was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.
  • But there's a less obvious yet surprisingly powerful explanation for introverts’ creative advantage—and explanation that everyone can learn from: introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be 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.”
  • The New Groupthink did not arise at one precise moment. Cooperative learning, corporate teamwork, and open office plans emerged at different times and for different reasons.
  • But the mighty force that pulled these trends together was the rise of the World Wide Web, which lent both cool and gravitas to the idea of collaboration.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory.
  • They’re often subject to loud and uncontrollable noise, which raises heart rates; releases cortisol, the body’s fight-or-flight “stress” hormone; and makes people socially distant, quick to anger, aggressive, and slow to help others.
  • Another study, of 38,000 workers across different sectors, found that the simple act of being interrupted is one of the biggest barriers to productivity.
  • Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs.
  • The same is true of academic research—professors who work together electronically, from different physical locations, tend to produce research that is more influential than those either working alone or collaborating face-to-face.
  • The most effective teams are composed of a healthy mix of introverts and extroverts, studies show, and so are many leadership structures.

Part Two: Your Biology, Your Self?

4: Is Temperament Destiny?

Nature, Nurture, and the Orchid Hypothesis

  • High-reactive children pay what one psychologist calls “alert attention” to people and things. 
  • They literally use more eye movements than others to compare choices before making a decision. It's as if they processed more deeply—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—the information they take in about the world.
  • High-reactive kids also tend to think and feel deeply about what they've noticed, and to bring an extra degree of nuance to everyday experiences.
  • If a high-reactive toddler breaks another child's toy by mistake, studies show, she often experiences a more intense mix of guilt and sorrow than a lower-reactive child would.
  • …introversion and extroversion, like other major personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, are about 40 to 50 percent heritable. 
  • I'm aware [during phone call] that I'm holding my torso tensely, one of the telltale signs of high-reactive.
  • Conversely, high-reactive children may be more likely to develop into artists and writers and scientists and thinkers because they're aversion to novelty causes them to spend time inside the familiar—and intellectually fertile—environment of their own heads.
  • “The university is filled with introverts,” observes the psychologist Jerry Miller, Director of the Center for the Child and the Family at the University of Michigan. 
  • Low-reactive, extroverted children, if raised by attentive families in safe environments, can grow up to be energetic achievers with big personalities—the Richard Bransons and Oprahs of this world.
  • But give those same children negligent caregivers or a bad neighborhood, say some psychologists, and they can turn into bullies, juvenile delinquents, or criminals.
  • And the destinies of the most high-reactive kids are also influenced by the world around them—perhaps even more so then for the average child, according to a groundbreaking new theory dubbed “the orchid hypothesis” by David Dobbs in a wonderful article in The Atlantic.
  • This theory holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including the high-reactive types that Kagan studied, are more like orchids: they wilt easily, but under the right conditions can grow strong and magnificent.
  • Cording to Jay Belsky, a leading proponent of this view and a psychology professor and child care expert at the University of London, the reactivity of these kids’ nervous systems makes them quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children do. In other words, orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative.
  • High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show.
  • Often they’re exceedingly empathic, caring, and cooperative. They work well with others. They are kind, conscientious, and easily disturbed by cruelty, injustice, and irresponsibility.

5: Beyond Temperament

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

  • In other words, the footprint of a high-or low-reactive temperament never disappeared in adulthood
  • …we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point.
  • A free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz’s research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits.
  • In fact, a recent fMRI study shows that when people use self-talk to reassess upsetting situations, activity in their prefrontal cortex increases in an amount correlated with a decrease of activity in their amygdala.
  • 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.
  • Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you could begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality—neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making.
  • Overarousal interferes with attention and short-term memory—key components of the ability to speak on the fly.
  • I also speak on topics that matter to me deeply, and have found that I feel much more centered when I truly care about my subject.
  • Sometimes speakers need to talk about subjects that don't interest them that much, especially at work. I believe this is harder for introverts, who have trouble projecting artificial enthusiasm.

6: “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’re 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 materialistic 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.
  • …sensitive types think in an unusually complex fashion.
  • They tend to have unusually strong consciences.
  • In social settings they often focus on subjects like personal problems, which others consider “too heavy.”
  • But the same receptivity to experience that can make life difficult for the highly sensitive also builds their consciences.
  • But combine that passion for thought with attention to subtlety—both common characteristics of introverts—and you get a very powerful mix.

7: Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffett Prosper?

How Introverts and Extroverts Think (and Process Dopamine) Differently

  • But just as the amygdala of a high-reactive person is more sensitive than average to novelty, so do extroverts seem to be more susceptible than introverts to the reward-seeking cravings of the old brain.
  • Extroverts’ dopamine pathways appear to be more active than those of introverts.
  • Another study, of sixty-four traders at an investment bank, found that the highest-performing traders tended to be emotionally stable introverts.
  • Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill.
  • Extroverts get better grades than introverts during elementary school, but introverts outperform extroverts in high school and college.
  • At the university level, introversion predicts academic performance better than cognitive ability.
  • Introverts receive disproportionate numbers of graduate degrees, National Merit Scholarship finalist positions, and Phi Beta Kappa keys.
  • They outperform extroverts on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal test…
  • “it's not that I'm so smart,” said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert. “It's that I stay with problems longer.”
  • And since the days of Aristotle, philosophers have observed that these two modes—approaching things that appear to give pleasure and avoiding others that seem to cause pain—lie at the heart of all human activity.
  • The key to flow is to pursue an activity for its own sake, not for the reward it brings.
  • But when you're focused on a project that you care about, you probably find that your energy is boundless. So stay true to your own nature.
  • The trick for introverts is to honor their own styles instead of allowing themselves to be swept up by prevailing norms.
  • “Success in investing doesn't correlate with IQ,” he [Buffett] has said. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”
  • He [Buffett] divides the world into people to focus on their own instincts and those who follow the herd.

Part Three: Do All Cultures Have An Extrovert Ideal?

8: Soft Power

Asian-Americans and the Extrovert Ideal

  • … Chinese high school students tell researchers that they prefer friends who are “humble” and “artistic,” “honest” and “hard-working,” while American high school students seek out the “cheerful,” “enthusiastic,” and “sociable.”
  • What lies behind these starkly different attitudes? One answer is the widespread reverence for education among Asians, particularly those from “Confucian belt” countries like China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
  • 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.
  • 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 undo restraint, to achieve the one thing that we, and we are alone, were brought into this world to do.
  • It makes sense, then, that Westerners value boldness and verbal skills, traits that promote individuality, while Asian price quiet, humility, and sensitivity, which foster group cohesion.
  • One study comparing European-American and second-generation Chinese-American teens over a five-year period found that Chinese-Americans were significantly more introverted than their American peers throughout adolescence—and paid the price with their self-esteem.
  • Gandhi himself ultimately rejected the phrase “passive resistance,” which he associated with weakness, preferring satyagraha, the term he coined to mean “firmness in pursuit of truth.”
  • Professor Ni defines soft power as “quiet persistence,” and this trait lies at the heart of academic excellence as surely as it does in Gandhi's political triumphs.
  • …the cross-cultural psychologist Priscilla Blinco gave Japanese and American first graders an unsolvable puzzle to work on in solitude, without the help of other children or a teacher, and compared how long they tried before giving up.
  • The Japanese children spent an average 13.93 minutes on the puzzle before calling it quits, whereas the American kids spent only 9.47 minutes.

Part Four: How to Love, How to Work

9: When Should You Act More Extroverted Than You Really Are?

  • … introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly. 
  • Free Trait Theory explains why an introvert might throw his extroverted wife a surprise party or join the PTA at his daughter’s school.
  • … introverts who were especially good at acting like extroverts tend to score high for a trait that psychologists call “self-monitoring.”
  • And it's not always so easy, it turns out, to identify your core personal projects.
  • And it can be especially tough for introverts, who have spent so much of their lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time they choose a career, or a calling, it feels perfectly normal to ignore their own preferences.
  • … I have found that there are three key steps to identify your own core personal projects.
  • First, think back to what you loved to do when you were a child.
  • Second, pay attention to the work you gravitate to.
  • Finally, pay attention to what you envy. You mostly envy those who have what you desire.
  • A Free Trait Agreement acknowledges that we each act out of character some of the time—in exchange for being ourselves the rest of the time.
  • It's a Free Trait Agreement when a wife who wants to go out every Saturday night and a husband who wants to relax by the fire work out a schedule: half the time will go out, and half the time will stay home.
  • But the person with whom you can best strike a Free Trait Agreement—after overcoming his or her resistance—is yourself.
  • And 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; introvert and extrovert or differently social.
  • Just as men and women often have different ways of resolving conflict, so do introverts and extroverts; Studies suggest that the former tend to be conflict-avoiders, while the latter are “confrontive copers,” at ease with up-front, even argumentative style of disagreement.
  • …introverts like people they meet in friendly contexts; extroverts prefer those they compete with.
  • Scores of studies have shown that venting doesn't soothe anger; it fuels it. We are best off when we don't allow ourselves to go to our angry place.
  • Introverts talking to extroverts choose cheerier topics, reported making conversation more easily, and describe conversing with extroverts as a “breath of fresh air.” 
  • In contrast, the extroverts felt that they could relax more with introvert partners and were freer to confide their problems. They didn't feel pressured to be falsely upbeat.
  • Extroverts need to know that introverts—who often seem to distain the superficial—may be only too happy to be towed along to a more lighthearted place; and introverts, who sometimes feel as if their propensity for problem talk makes them a drag, should know that they make it safe for others to get serious.

11: On Cobblers and Generals

  • One of the best things you can do for an introverted child is to work with him on his reaction to novelty.
  • 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 for pushing too hard.

First, some thoughts for teachers:

  • Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.
  • Studies show that one third to one half of us are introverts.
  • Introverts often have one or two deep interests that are not necessarily shared by their peers. 
  • Some collaborative work is fine for introverts, even beneficial. 
  • In many fields, it's impossible to gain mastery without knowing how to work on one's own.
  • Don't sit quiet kids in “high-interaction” areas of the classroom…
  • …think twice before basing your admissions decisions on children’s performance in a playgroup setting.
  • The younger your child is, the more likely she is to open up, so you should start this process as early in her school career as possible.
  • Ask your child for information in a gentle, nonjudgmental way, with specific, clear questions. Instead of “How was your day?” try “What did you do in math class today?”
  • It's critically important for his emotional and social development that he have one or two solid friendships, child development experts tell us, but being popular isn't necessary.
  • While extroverts are more likely to skate from one hobby or activity to another, introverts often stick with their enthusiasms. This gives them a major advantage as they grow, because true self-esteem comes from competence, not the other way around.
  • Researchers have found that intense engagement in and commitment to an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being. 
  • Well-developed talents and interests can be a great source of confidence for your child, no matter how different he might feel from his peers.
  • And the way we characterize our past setbacks profoundly influences how satisfied we are with our current lives.
  • Unhappy people tend to see setbacks as contaminants that ruined an otherwise good thing (“I was never the same again after my wife left me”), while generative adults see them as blessings in disguise (“The divorce was the most painful thing that ever happened to me, but I'm so much happier with my new wife”). 
  • Those who live the most fully realized lives—giving back to their families, societies, and ultimately themselves—tend to find meaning in their obstacles.

Conclusion: Wonderland

  • Use your natural powers—of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity—to do work you love and work that matters. 
  • Solve problems, make art, think deeply.
  • Figure out what you are meant to contribute to the world and make sure you contribute it.
  • Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to.
  • Make the most of introverts’ strengths—these are the people who can help you think deeply, strategize, solve complex problems, and spot canaries in your coal mine.
Thanks for reading.  You can get more insights into the self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering in my email newsletter. Each week, I share a popular book summary or an in-depth article with practical ideas on personal freedom and showing up as yourself with courage, curiosity, and self-compassion.
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