Over the past month I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. As I share some thoughts, I disclose that I am an introvert myself, which was part of why I read the book.
The book itself really isn’t about introversion entirely. I found that a little misleading as there are plenty of things that deal with ethnicity and culture as well as popular culture.
One of my reactions to the book felt like it was more naming the obvious as it relates to introversion in life, relationships, and the workplace. I didn’t find the content to be extraordinarily revolutionary regarding the dynamics or experiences of introversion – in part because I am one and because I’ve been exposed to the concept through tools like the MBTI and others over the last couple decades. But there were some great nuggets that I enjoyed and I think it’s worth reading – especially for extraverts.
One of the sections I found interesting dealt with the rise of the personality cult of leadership and two of the leaders compared and contrasted were motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Evangelical pastor Rick Warren. I don’t think they are anywhere in the same boat, but it was insightful and worth thinking about how stereotypes or contemporary culture has impacted what people believe about what leadership is or should be. The Tony Robbins section was very entertaining to me and exposes the business as a grand marketing scheme that reinforces certain presupposed values about life and leadership. The Saddleback scenario is more of an indictment of pre-packaged spirituality that allows people to be entertained without authentic reflection.
As I thought about the above examples – it did make me reflect more on my journey working for what I would describe as an “extravert” organization where social initiative is deeply embedded in the values and mission of the organization. That’s always been a challenge. I’ve learned it, but I also am not surprised that I’ve only found myself thriving when I’m in places where I am not required to be functioning socially in those ways. These are new thoughts for me, but it was good to think again after more years of experience.
There’s a helpful section related to culture and stereotypes about leadership anchored in historical paradigms in the east versus the west. While I feel like the author at times comes across unnecessarily critical of extraverted or outgoing leadership, it’s a helpful exploration of how Asian leaders or others that share similar qualities are marginalized in the western leadership context. It unpacks some of the things we use to regularly interact over when I was working in Epic, an Asian-American ministry. I’m facing some of those things now as I do leadership development in an international graduate school and seminary context.
One thing I didn’t like was that the author came across as a bit as having an agenda. Maybe it was the audiobook version as I did this book while commuting over a couple weeks, but I just didn’t like the tone of the book or some of the assumptions or conclusions in the book.
One note I found to be quite irresponsible was the argument that Jesus was representative as a “western” god who was charismatic and outgoing compared to eastern gods who are more figures of silent wisdom. When she attempted to enter into the religious sphere, including her treatment of Warren and Saddleback, she was somewhat out over her skiis. But to say Jesus was an extraverted and charismatic leader in the western mold is just not true and reflects an uninformed knowledge of the Jesus of the Bible. But there is a helpful takeaway – recognizing how cultures view wisdom should impact how you would want to represent Jesus and his teachings.
If you are an introvert and have never thought about your experience, then this would be great for you. If you are an extravert and you are interested in seeing where your blind spots might be impacting the people around you and how you can help a large number of people around you succeed, then it’s a great book for you as it will open up your mind to some important social and corporate realities that impact how we go about what we do.
One last note – I really enjoyed the practical suggestion included of a “restorative niche” – a space or break that allows introverts to recharge. This is something I want to think more about as I can often have extraverted activities stacked back to back to back but then I crash. I need to schedule some introverted restorative niche space intentionally to allow me to manage my energy better throughout the week. That was a great takeaway for me.