#13. A Summary of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain

‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain (Crown; January 24, 2012)

Table of Contents:

i. Introduction/Synopsis


1. What Is Meant by the Terms ‘Introvert’ and ‘Extrovert’, (and Where Do These Personality Traits Come From?)

2 The ‘Extrovert Ideal’ and Its Early History in the West

3. The Industrial Revolution and the Rise of the ‘Culture of Personality’

4. The Extrovert Ideal Today

  • a. The Extrovert Ideal at America’s Most Prestigious Business School (HBS)
  • b. The Extrovert Ideal in the Business Community
  • c. The Extrovert Ideal in Our Schools
  • d. The Extrovert Ideal in Public Opinion


5. Challenging the Extrovert Ideal in the Realm of Business Leadership

6. Challenging the Extrovert Ideal in the Realm of Financial Investing (with a Detour into the Physiology and Evolution of Introversion)

  • a. The Physiology of Reactivity and its Connection to Risk-Taking (and Introversion)
  • b. The Physiology of Reward-Sensitivity and its Connection to Risk-Taking (and Introversion)
  • c. The (Possible) Evolutionary Origins of Introversion
  • d. Risk-Taking and Heed-Taking in Financial Investing

7. Challenging the Extrovert Ideal in the Realm of Creativity

  • a. The Introvert as the Creative Type
  • b. The Advantages of Working Solo
  • c. The Advantages of Mixing Individual Work with Collaboration


8. Advice for the Parents of Introverted Children

9. Advice for the Teachers of Introverted Students

10. Advice for Introverts

11. Conclusion

 i. Introduction/Synopsis

Being the quieter, more reserved type, introverts are not as inclined as others to broadcast just who they are and what makes them tick, much less honk their own horns. However, given that Western culture has increasingly pushed introverts aside, and is intent on celebrating their opposite, it is high time that introverts stepped out of character, made themselves heard, and proclaimed to the world that they have much to offer indeed. This is the campaign that Susan Cain launches in her new book, ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’.

Cain begins her account by way of establishing that Western culture has increasingly adopted an ‘Extrovert Ideal,’ in which louder, bolder, more effervescent and risk-friendly individuals are valued over and above the quieter, more reserved, contemplative and heed-friendly ones. While Western culture has a long history of favoring the extrovert, Cain argues that this bias has steepened since the industrial revolution, and particularly in the past century as the West has become ever-more urbanized and commercial. Over the course of this time-frame, Cain argues, a Culture of Personality, perhaps best represented by the motivational guru Tony Robbins, has come to replace a Culture of Character, best represented by such figures as Abraham Lincoln.

Cain’s intention here is not to put-down extroverts, or to say that they are inferior to introverts. Rather, her argument is that the latter have an important role to play in many areas of society that is now often being overlooked. For one, the introvert’s greater willingness to listen to others and their input makes them better leaders than is generally recognized. Second, their heed-friendly temperaments serves to better protect them against dangerous situations, and makes them particularly valuable in such professions as financial investing, where undue risk is not only known to get individuals in trouble, but entire nations, and even the entire international community. Third, the fact that introverts tend to have a heightened moral sense makes them well-suited to fill the role of the social conscience of society, which is often valuable in protecting the downtrodden, and also in saving societies from their own recklessness.

Finally, the added thoughtfulness and persistence of introverts, and their heightened capacity to work independently, often gives them an edge in creative enterprises such as art and technological innovation, as well as in more intellectual industries such as science and engineering. Indeed, Cain insists that there is plenty of evidence to indicate that working independently is an important part of having and developing the best ideas, not only for introverts but for everyone. This helps explain why the most creative people tend to be introverted, and also serves as an argument in favor of tempering the emphasis on groupthink and collaborative work that is currently running rampant through our schools and businesses.

While introverts often have more to offer than many recognize, it is also the case that their sensitive nature tends to make them more fragile than others; as such, they are particularly susceptible to having their talents stifled and even snuffed out before they have had the time to develop. For this reason, Cain argues, it is especially important for parents and educators to know the best approaches when it comes to both raising and educating the quieter type, and the author makes a concerted effort to address these issues here. In particular, Cain emphasizes just how vital it is to encourage and nurture the introvert’s peculiar talents, and to be patient in dealing with their inwardness. Having said this, Cain does not advocate giving in to this inwardness entirely, as she stresses the importance of challenging the introvert to come out of their shell as much as they are able, in order that they may learn to make their voices heard, and to get along in a more extrovert-friendly world. In connection with this, Cain argues that it is not only possible, but often healthy and beneficial for introverts to stretch themselves to be more extroverted on occasion—especially when it is in the name of a goal that they value, and as long as it is not overdone.

Here is Susan Cain speaking about her new book:

What follows is a full executive summary of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.


1. What Is Meant by the Terms ‘Introvert’ and ‘Extrovert’, and Where Do These Personality Traits Come From?

We shall begin with an account of introversion and extroversion, and a discussion of just how these terms are used in the book. As many will know, the leading personality theory in psychology today is the Big Five Theory of Personality. According to this theory, personality may be boiled down to five basic traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness and extroversion. Each of the personality traits consists of a continuum with two opposing extremes, and each of us falls somewhere along the continuum with regards to each of the traits. So, for example, when it comes to the extroversion trait, the two extremes are known as ‘extraversion’ and ‘introversion’, and each of us would fall somewhere between these two extremes. (To determine your relative orientation with regards to each of these personality traits (including extroversion), I recommend this online survey: http://www.personalitylab.org/tests/ccq_self.htm

A shorter and less involved survey is available here: http://www.outofservice.com/bigfive/

Extraversion (often rendered just ‘extroversion’) is defined mainly in terms of heightened sociability and an inclination towards social dominance: “extroverts are the people who will add life to your party and laugh generously at your jokes. They tend to be assertive, dominant, and in need of great company. Extroverts think out loud and on their feet; they prefer talking to listening, rarely find themselves at a loss for words, and occasionally blurt out things they never meant to say. They’re comfortable with conflict but with not with solitude” (p. 11). In connection with the extrovert’s desire for more social stimulation is their desire for more stimulating experiences of all kinds. As Cain puts it, “extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo” (p. 11). It is partly out of this desire for more stimulation, it seems, that extroverts are more inclined towards risk-taking than introverts (there will be more on this in the section entitled The Physiology of Reactivity and its Connection to Risk-Taking [and Introversion] in Part II, below).

In contrast to extroversion, introversion is defined in terms of a reduced sociability and the relative lack of an inclination towards social dominance: “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” (p. 11). (Incidentally, this puts the lie to the common conception that introverts are anti-social. They’re not, they’re just differently social [p. 226]). Just as the extroverts added desire for social stimulation is accompanied by an added desire for stimulation of all kinds, so the introverts reduced desire for social stimulation is accompanied by a reduced desire for overly-stimulating experiences of all sorts: “your typical introvert would rather spend her vacation reading on the beach than partying on a cruise ship” (p. 11).

While Cain’s use of the words ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ in the book certainly includes the aforementioned descriptions, her use of these terms is also somewhat broader than that contained within the Big Five Theory. Indeed, Cain admits that her treatment of ‘introvert’ and ‘extrovert’ corresponds much closer to the very familiar dichotomy often rendered as the ‘man of thought’ and ‘the man of action’ (p. 263). This dichotomy incorporates the psychologist’s understanding of introversion in terms of a reduced sociability and relative lack of interest in social dominance. However, it also adds such qualities as a penchant for contemplation and reflection, a heightened sense of empathy and sharpened moral conscience, an elevated shyness, and an added aversion to risk-taking (p. 263).

Though this understanding of introversion may not correspond exactly to that held by the psychologist, it does have a long history in Western culture (p. 263), and is most often the one that we intuitively think of when we hear the word ‘introvert’ (p. 263). In other words, Cain is using the cultural rather than the strictly scientific definition of ‘introvert’ (p. 263). This does not mean that Cain eschews scientific evidence in favor of speculation, however. Indeed, Cain is careful to back up her claims with studies and experiments from the scientific community—though not always from elements of it that are entirely in agreement with the Big Five Theory.

When it comes to where our orientation with regards to extroversion comes from, those who are familiar with twin studies will know that roughly 40% to 50% of the variation among individuals on this personality trait (like all personality traits) can be explained in terms of genetics (p. 105). That is, how introverted or extroverted we are is, to a large extent, biological and heritable. Of course, this still leaves a great deal of room for our personalities (including how introverted or extroverted we are) to be shaped by our upbringing and environment, including the culture that we are raised in, and it is to this latter factor that we will turn to next.

2. The ‘Extrovert Ideal’ and Its Early History in the West

Cain begins her argument by way of establishing that Western culture has a distinct bias towards the extrovert—what she calls the ‘Extrovert Ideal’. According to the Extrovert Ideal, it is a virtue to be talkative, sociable, lively, action-oriented and risk-friendly. On the other hand, it is a weakness to be reticent, withdrawn, serious, contemplation-oriented and heed-friendly. As Cain puts it, “we live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups” (p. 4).

*For prospective buyers: To get a good indication of how this (and other) articles look before purchasing, I’ve made several of my past articles available for free. Each of my articles follows the same form and is similar in length (15-20 pages). The free articles are available here: Free Articles

9 thoughts on “#13. A Summary of ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’ by Susan Cain

  1. Thanks so much! I am such a slow reader and this book has been patiently waiting on my shelf. It’s much easier to read something when one understands the themes.

    • Thanks Mladen, I’m glad you’re liking the articles. I fully intend to keep it up, so I hope you continue to find the articles of interest.


    • Thanks Ryan. I’m glad you liked the article, and found it a help. I’m also happy to hear you felt the summary did the book justice.


  2. Quiet is a fascinating book about the prejudice that our society faces against introverts, and why it’s unfounded, and how, as an introvert, you can overcome that, as well as just KNOW yourself better. I never really classified myself as such before, but reading this, I understand why, if I’m exhausted, all I want to be is alone, and how I’m extroverted only when I can control my environment and how that’s a THING! If you’re shy or are unsure, this is a great read. I think you’ll discover something about yourself, that’s why I’ve recommended to a lot of people lately!

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