Monday, 23 April 2012

Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts...

For the past week I have, uncharacteristically, been racing through a book, not able to put it down. That book is "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain, who I first heard of from this TEDTalk, and just happened to notice the book on the shelf in a bookshop when I was passing through town.

As an introvert myself, I have always been acutely aware of the fact that our culture is built on the "Extrovert Ideal", and all the effects that has had on my life. Despite introverted activities having as much value to society as extroverted ones, a higher value is consistently placed on extroverted activities both in the workplace and within schools. You will be hard-pushed to find a job description that does not ask for "teamwork" and "communication" as essential skills, but are unlikely to find one that demands more introverted traits such as reserve and sensitivity, even when they would be advantageous to the role.

The first three chapters (Part One) explore this "Extrovert Ideal", how it came about, and the effect it has had on individuals and on society as a whole, whilst the rest of the book looks at how introverts came to be the way they are, and what tools the introvert can use to understand themselves and extroverts better, and live happier and more fulfilling lives as a result.

The book, reminiscent of Tracy Chapman's song "Talking about a revolution" (which insists that it "sounds like a whisper"), gives numerous examples of people who have changed the world, not despite, but often partly aided by, their quiet and sensitive nature. Such people include Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt (who stood up for the misrepresented when she was First Lady) and Rosa Parks (an African-American civil rights activist). By being quiet and reflective, we find, introverts are often much better at seeing the bigger picture, averse to high risk and better at activities that require a lot of solitary study and concentration.

I wouldn't write a book review on here unless it had something to say about transition, but this book I really do feel has a lot to say. Transition, I feel, is an introverted movement, in that its focus is not on simply communicating (like the Occupy movement, in many ways), but is contemplative and about getting stuff done even when the movement is misunderstood or not accepted by society as a whole. This, I feel, is a great character trait, because Transition doesn't just pander to people for the sake of pleasing them (as governments do, most of the time), nor does it try to be controlling or aggressive.

However, along with the positive character traits, there are negative ones. The Transition movement, like introverts, has a small number of dedicated friends, but often gets lost in large crowds, and sometimes finds it difficult to make itself heard over the more assertive members of society, such as banks and corporations (the book suggests, indirectly, that the financial recessions of both the dot-com bubble and those more recently were caused, at least in part, by extroverts taking disproportionate risks whilst ignoring the warning by introverts (such as Warren Buffett), who, being risk-averse, had looked ahead, and saw financial crises in the making).

The Transition movement, therefore, and its members (particularly the more introverted ones), would do well to take a leaf or two out of this book. Here are a few suggestions:

Assume a soft leadership

Susan Cain suggests that introverts make good leaders when they preside over proactive people, whose strengths they can bring out, without stealing the lime-light, or stifling with top-down control. In the same way, the leadership that transition can bring to an area, where a local council may not be able, is in inspiring existing companies, communities, and individuals to take the initiative to improve itself, and to reward it for doing so.

Learn to be more vocal, but schedule in "restorative niches" too

Introverts can burn out if they try to go against their nature for too long (pseudo-extroversion), and although they may step out of their comfort zone for short periods and express themselves very well, they may need to recover by creating a "restorative niche", where they can just "be themselves". A great example of this is the Magdelan Street Celebration - just one day a year of activity to express the values of transition in the Norwich north city region - but which, if held constantly, would become tiresome, and would drift away from the values which it was all about in the first place. To keep the movement on track, restorative niches are required; perhaps something like last year's "Spring Scheming", or the discussion following Nicole Foss's talk in April of last year.

Foster creativity

Creativity is never produced by "groupthink". Original and creative ideas comes from a single mind, even when inspired by external events or other people's less-developed theories. For us to face the challenges that present themselves during the transition to a post-peak future, we need creativity, and therefore we would do well to provide situations in which such creativity can thrive. These won't be big parties or social get-togethers (however fun these may be), but quiet moments where ideas are shared freely, but leave people with plenty of time to think around and develop their own ideas and solutions (I consider this blog to be a great opportunity for me to get my creative juices flowing, to explore and express my ideas!)

There's one little quote from the book which I want to leave you with, in support of blogging as a method of expression for introverts:

Studies have shown that... The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.

If only TLCL's readership were quite at the two million mark!

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