Book Review: Quiet: the power of introverts

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Cain, Susan. Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Crown Publishers, 2012.

A former dean, a brilliant but quiet man, once remarked that when he was a student, he was often frustrated with his teams, which were prone to making suboptimal decisions. He felt that he could have done better by himself. In her new book Quiet, Susan Cain explains that MBA classes are composed of bright students whose backgrounds include leadership roles in clubs, teams and community activities and most of these leaders are extroverts. When in a group situation, these students’ aggressive communication styles overshadow the contributions of thoughtful introverted students who are often better prepared.

Cain makes this observation at the Harvard Business School, the “Spiritual Capital of Extroversion,” where future leaders in business and government are taught to act confidently and make decisions in uncertain situations. Grades and social status depend on speaking out and interacting with others. In class, students who speak often and talk fast are considered more intelligent, creative and appealing than their more reticent classmates, even though their suggestions are no better overall. Graduates enter a business culture where verbal communication and social interaction are key predictors of success.

And so it is with American culture. American culture is extroverted; European culture is somewhat less so. People admire dynamic speakers, and have difficulty distinguishing between good presentation skills and true insight. Asian cultures are more reserved, and the potential and contributions of Asians are often undervalued. Author Cain discusses these cultural issues and a host of others, weaving personal stories with facts from recent research in psychology and neurology.

And what about Fuqua? Management Communications professor Mark Brown told me that when tested, Fuqua students as a group score very high on collaboration, 6.3 out of 7 on a 7-point scale. “Collaboration involves actively drawing people out, even quiet people, to find out what their ideas are. One of our big challenges on teams is to get teammates to understand that introverts need time to think issues through before they take a stand. They need the time to “bake the cake” before you ask them to serve it. Extroverts need to stop trying to engage Introverts in continuous dialogue and just shut up until their Introverted teammates are ready to serve the fully baked cake.” Introverts and extroverts alike would benefit from reading Quiet, an intelligent and insightful book.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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