Monday, January 23, 2017

Five Take-Aways from the Introvert Book

The book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain, released in 2012. It's been on my to-read list for a while after popping up on my Goodreads feed over the last few years. While the book could be less long-winded, a common critique I have of many non-fiction books, there's a lot of great materials in there. As someone who is an introvert myself and work with many introverts in an extrovert culture and, more specifically,  an extrovert field (college residence life), I identified with a lot of the material and was glad to name many of my experiences and felt responses. It's high time to own and champion my introversion.

I'm having trouble stringing a lot of the material into a coherent single thesis so I'm typing up five take-aways that especially stuck with me. I'll give a quote and a few thoughts on how I've seen it play out in my life or those around me.


1. Leadership
"Because of their inclination to listen to others and lack of interest in dominating social situations, introverts are more likely to hear and implement suggestions. Having benefited form the talents of their followers, they are then likely to motive them to be even more proactive. Introverted leaders create a virtuous circle of proactivity, in other words" (p. 57).
I've consistently received feedback from the student leaders with whom I work that I excel at listening. It feels passive and it's not a skill you see touted on many resumes. But I'm learning that it's a specific strength of mine which I want to own and develop in addition to encouraging within the students and colleague peers of mine with whom I work. My form of leadership may differ from the culture's ideal; that's alright with me.

2. Ideal work & learning method
"... the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts ... introverts prefer to work independently, and solitude can be a catalyst to innovation" (p. 74).
As education and work cultures trend towards group work and open work spaces, the limiting aspects are aplenty for introverts. I enjoy connecting with my colleagues on a daily basis and feel like I get in a rut if by myself all day. But, I often find myself unable to be productive (or as productive) when working alongside others. There's too much happening. I'm over-stimulated. Likewise, later on in this particular chapter, brainstorming as a way of idea-generation is identified as a poor method of creativity and coming up with a way to think anew. I've found this to be true in so many meetings. Feedback and ideas are requested and I don't have developed ideas to contribute. I wish I had time to concentrate deliberately by myself. I'm just as guilty of this in leading others. Note to self: give team-members time to think of ideas on their own, with space to do so.

3. Appropriately stimulating environments
"Once you understand introversion and extroversion as preferences for certain levels of stimulation, you can begin consciously trying to situate yourself in environments favorable to your own personality - neither overstimulating nor understimulating, neither boring nor anxiety-making" (p. 124). 
I've long known I had specific preferences for environment, work or otherwise. Lamp over fluorescent lighting, music that engages but doesn't distract, pleasant or no smell. I've also recently added a kinetic sandbox and essential oil diffuser to my office. Few people prefer chaotic environments, but boy do I love an office that is calming or a living room where the throw pillows are in their place. Introverts are more easily stimulated (read: distracted and worn out) than others and I'm happy to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

4. Making decisions
"... extroverted clients are more likely to be highly reward-sensitive, while the introverts are more likely to pay attention to warning signals" (p. 158). 
At a rudimentary level, extroverts get a buzz from opting to do things. This can be great in a lot of situations. But more destructive if in risk oriented fields like trading stocks. Later on it's commented upon that introverts are especially good at making a plan and sticking to it in a disciplined way. So I'm not great at making decisions quickly. My Input Strength doesn't help here either. But there's something to be said about slow-decision makers. They are prone to consider the plethora of outcomes and think a few steps down the line of reasoning. I have to prepare myself when serving on-call in my residence life role. But I shouldn't downplay my ability to reason and make good decisions when given the proper time and space.

5. Free Trait Theory

"According to Free Trait Theory, we are born and culturally endowed with certain personality traits - introversion, for example - but we can and do act out of character in the service of 'core personal projects'" (p. 209). 
A majority of my days are filled with meetings, many times in one-on-one settings. I often finish my days drained and tired. But I also don't tire of the work I do. I couldn't explain the dissonance very well. This little theory does a lot to help me think through what my "core personal projects" are - facilitating student learning, discussing important topics - and better understand why I'm willing to act outside of my personality trait for the majority of my days.


There you have it. There were plenty of other coherent, insightful take-aways from the book but those were five that stuck out to me. Likewise, introversion/extroversion is one aspect of our personality and thus our personhood. So here's to better understanding one more aspect of our selves.


Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

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