Have you ever read a book that spoke right to your heart, just when you needed to hear it most? Have you ever wanted to scream and shout in excitement that surely it must have been written to you?
For me, Quiet by Susan Cain is one such book.
In a world where the only constant is change, the self-help industry has thrived on our anxieties, fears and insecurities, backed by a plethora of books advocating change. With titles such as How to Win Friends and Influence People; Awaken the Giant Within or The Success Principles: How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, it is no wonder that we are constantly questioning whether we are ever good enough. It is refreshing, then, to chance upon a book that teaches us to appreciate the value of just…being ourselves.
The back-page blurb of Quiet quickly captured my attention during an aimless wander through the local bookstore (one of my many aimless wanders that typically yielded my favourite finds):
For far too long, those who are naturally quiet, serious or sensitive have been overlooked. The loudest have taken over – even if they have nothing to say. It’s time for everyone to listen. It’s time to harness the power of introverts. It’s time for Quiet.
By the time I dug into the Introduction, I was hooked. Here is a perfect illustration of me, inexplicably penned by a perfect stranger:
Introverts…like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame… Introverts…may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.
If the mere thought of bullet-train talking, chest puffing and fist pumping feats of human extroversion is enough to spin your head and turn your innards to mush, then you will be delighted (as I am) to welcome the revolution of Quiet.
The Quiet Revolution – The Powers of Introversion
1. The Power of Humility: Our humility and inclination to take into account wide-ranging views are powerful tools in leadership, as it is shown that introverts are uniquely adept at leading initiative-takers and fostering a “virtuous circle of proactivity”. The myth of charismatic leadership has been well and truly busted by Cain, whom concluded that oftentimes the highest-performing American companies were led by CEOs with the following unassuming attributes: quiet, humble, gracious, mild-mannered, self-effacing (think Bill Gates & Microsoft; Larry Page & Google; Darwin Smith & Kimberley-Clark).
We don’t need giant personalities to transform companies. We need leaders who build not their own egos but the institutions they run.
2. The Power of Empathy: Empathy comes naturally to introverts and remains one of our most untapped strengths. We are compassionate, empathetic listeners and can be a repository for great confidences. This makes us effective communicators too, when we want to be. Table pounding and shrill voices are unnecessary when, as an introvert, we can unleash our soft powers and take firm positions whilst coming across as completely reasonable.
3. The Power of Restraint: We are generally a tolerant bunch, and are not easily goaded into action (or reaction). Do not read into this, however, to mean that we are cold-blooded masochists, we are just consciously bearing our ultimate goals in mind and refusing to be embroiled in (self-) destructive skirmishes along the way. Exercising restraint and self-governance can be one of our most defining characteristics.
4. The Power of Focus: Introverts have been shown to possess extraordinary levels of selective concentration. What may appear at first blush to be a lack of versatility and bandwidth is in fact our own recalibrating powers at work in channelling scarce resources (both physical and emotional) to the pursuit of passions that matter most to us.
5. The Power of Creativity: As introverts, we are most likely to reach our creative highs when working alone, to this I can attest. I can hardly string creative thoughts together extemporaneously and when surrounded by people. Contrary to popular belief, Cain’s thesis reveals that the power of collective brainstorming is overrated and the concept of “two heads are better than one” is also often misconstrued. In fact, the world would be deprived of many of the inventions we take for granted today were it not for introverts labouring alone (think Isaac Newton & the theory of gravity; Steve Wozniak & Apple Mac; JK Rowling & Harry Potter).
By the early twentieth century, the sorry shift from the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality was all but complete. The rise of the Extrovert Ideal presented a formidable force, in which we are all to be judged as a performing self. For some of us, we will never be as charismatic as Bill Clinton, or as flamboyant as Kim Kardashian, but the truth is, we don’t have to be! A fully functioning, vibrant society needs all types, and we must not relegate ourselves to the rank of second-class citizens just because we do not neatly identify with this ideal. Our powers of humility, empathy, restraint, focus and creativity will serve us well in life, and we ought to be proud, of just the way we are.