Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain is an informative book about introverts, contemplative people, and extroverts, people of action. The author, herself an introvert, offers an examination of introverts that is useful for personal study and reflection as well as relating to others. Beginning with an introduction of the Extrovert Ideal, Cain explains how society shifted from valuing character to valuing personality. She credits the industrial revolution and the rise of big business for this shift to a Culture of Personality. That’s when personality became more important than inner character. One hundred years later, we are still dealing with a Culture of Personality (pp. 19-71).
Cain examines business practices meant to foster creativity, innovation and performance such as brainstorming, small group work, and common work areas concluding they are counterproductive to performance and productivity. Rather, employers should provide diverse workspaces that benefit both introverts and extroverts. An open common space for interpersonal interaction and private workspaces for employees when they want to focus or be alone to facilitate creativity and productivity. This holds true for library space as well. She talks about deliberate practice and how solitude increases performance leading to expertise because the individual can intensely focus, without interruption, on challenging aspects of the task (Cain, 2013).
Insightful physiological, psychological and sociological research studies on temperament are provided. The author defines temperament as “biological, inborn based behavioral and emotional patterns that are observable in infancy and early childhood”. The reader is provided information on the biological origins of human temperament as well as sociological and psychological research on the influence of cultural and personal experience on the development of personality. Of interest is a longitudinal study by Harvard professor Jerry Kagan who studied the reactivity of infant’s nervous systems when responding to stimuli. He identified traits of high reactivity including alertness and aversion to novelty as a biological basis for introversion, whereas low reactivity nervous systems have a propensity for boldness the biological basis for extroversion. Studies of MRI results show that extroverts are highly reward sensitive. Conversely, introverts show more brain activity in another part of the brain that is responsible for delayed gratification. In other words “introverts are geared to inspect, extroverts are geared to respond”, making them wonderful compliments to each other, and capable leaders in their own way (Cain, 2013, pp. 97-181).
Cain points out that other cultures do not adopt the Extrovert Ideal. While the American culture focuses on individuality, other cultures value harmony. She specifically identifies Asian culture and its emphasis on “Asian-Style Soft Power”, a subtle persistence whose strength comes from substance and not charisma. She uses Gandhi and Rosa Parks as examples of soft power along with some insightful interviews with students, teachers and CEOs, all of which serve to reinforce the concept that “conviction is conviction” no matter what decibel level it is given (Cain 2013, pp. 170-181).
Lastly, the author relates how the introvert can survive the Extrovert Ideal. She examines the person/situation debate which asks if there are fixed characteristics of personality or does a person adapt situationally? We are all born with certain personality traits, but we can also adopt the skills necessary to support our core personal project, or what we believe in. Introverts can function in an extrovert world by drawing on their own strengths and utilizing the restorative niche, a place to go to “restore your true self” (Cain, 2013, pp. 205-267).
This book is a great resource that offers evidence and techniques for introverts to survive in the Culture of Personality. Historically, the library has attracted introverts. The very nature of the profession echo the characteristics of an introvert including active listening and critical thinking skills. However, library services are transforming. There is a huge demand for librarians who “think different” (Mathews, 2012). How will the Culture of Personality affect the librarian? Will this trend towards emerging technology, online social engagement, user centered services, collaboration, and outreach drive out fixed trait, introverted librarians? Can they adapt? Will extroverts be more attracted to the field? Will a new kind of librarian emerge?
Cain, S. (2013). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Broadway Books.
Cain, S. (2012). Susan Cain talks about herbook, the power of introverts. Penguin Random House, YouTube.com. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/12-layf7Q6I
Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup: A white paper to inspire library entrepreneurialism. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1