Shhh...Don't underestimate the quiet girl in the room

Susan Cain's new book 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' profiles some of society's greatest introverts, and how their quiet ways actually allowed them to spark big change.

April 6, 2012

Download Story

Wall-less offices, classrooms configured in circles-it seems like more and more society forces collaboration and groupthink. We applaud teamwork. Some job posts even include it as a desired skill for the position.

But what about individuals who prefer singular activities inspired by their internal thoughts and positions? We call them shy, quiet, mellow.

Susan Cain calls them introverts, and notes they're not appropriately classified under those terms. Cain, a former Wall Street lawyer, spent seven years compilling a history of introverts, and the impact they made on society in her new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

Susan Cain joins WBEZ to talk about this book on Friday's Afternoon Shift.

In an appearance at the TED conference, Cain explains how a stay at summer camp, after arriving with a full stack of books to conquer during her time, made her feel different than other campgoers. Camp was all about being loud, expressively energetic and bonding with bunkmates. Her family enjoyed quiet and encouraged reading and other solitary activities. And that's ok.

As Cain notes, some of our greatest thinkers are introverts. She points to people like Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak, whose quiet creativity brought us some of the last century's greatest technological advancements. She also says civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks identified along introverted lines. Parks spoke up when necessary and sparked a revolution.

Gregarious, outgoing, loud people don't tune out just yet! Cain has love for extroverts, too (she says her own husband falls into that category). There's an important place for extroverts, but Cain's argument is that we need to make the world more welcoming to introverts. It's not only extroverts who can lead, but introverts can foster the freedom that allows team members to chase ideas that end with innovation and greatness. And, Cain says both groups can practice the traits of the other to find success. Extroverts can spend a little more time in their head to tap into something new; introverts can more readily share some of those ideas that have been ruminating internally. So, extroverts and introverts can form strong teams with great results. Cain reminds us to just make sure we're listening to the introvert, even if they're speaking quietly.