Being strong by being Quiet

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Every book is an insight into someone’s soul, a lifetime of discovery condensed into an easily digestible format. Yet not all books are created equal. Most books touch you but very few can be termed as profound. One such profound book that I read recently was Quiet: The power of introverts by Susan Cain. It touched something inside me and turned a life knob or something. I see the world very differently after having read this book.

Take a moment and imagine some of the things we do every day: speak up, speak out, push back, write about achievements, advertise our work, evangelize things we believe one. There is a common thread that binds all these behaviors: they are all extrovert behaviors to a certain degree.

Now take a moment and imagine a classic introvert: passionate about their work, not interested in advertising or evangelizing their work, would prefer to be left alone and get things done. An average person displaying these behaviors in life or at work would be considered anti-social and would not be the poster boy of corporate company. In fact it is highly likely that showing only these behaviors you would have a hard time trying to get yourself taken seriously or getting promoted.

Let’s look at another introvert perspective: Imagine you were an introvert who prefers to be by yourself more than being social, to reflect and be quiet, to find happiness within and small things in life. Now imagine being surrounded by a world of constant stimulus, Facebook-Instagram-Snapchat. In a world with every second visual being advertising of things you are missing out on by sitting alone at your home. You feel like you are wrong, your existence is messed up, perhaps you even feel like you have a mental illness.

I wasn’t a classic introvert but there were more days than I would like where I felt like I did not fit in this world. There were definitely days where I felt I was mentally ill to not be able to socialize, to not want to put most of my life on an external forum, to want to pick a book and curl up in the bed and spend the whole week doing just this. At times it felt like I was wasting time and not achieving anything by being indoors. Until I read the book Quiet.

The first and most profound takeaway for me was: Introverts derive strength from being by themselves, by reflecting, from their own company and thoughts. It was just natural and there was nothing wrong with this. That just explained why I felt more energetic after being in the wilderness, or spend a weekend alone reading and also why I felt tired after a social encounter.

The second takeaway for me: the world is full of introverts so I am not the odd one out. Almost 20-30% in the world might be considered introverts. I felt there was confidence in the numbers. 20% of the humans on this planet cannot be mentally ill. And if they are termed “mentally ill” or “mentally unfit” it’s probably the science that is broken and not the people.

The third takeaway: the world is rigged in favor of extroverts. Without extrovert behaviors it is hard to win, it is hard to get yourself heard and to move up the corporate ladder. The processes that we operate by, the characteristics we define leaders by, the rules we play the game by are all rigged towards extroverts. That is just how the world operates right now. Just this awareness helps you look at the world differently. You are not living anymore thinking you can’t win. You realize that part of the reason is that the system is rigged against you a little. The other thing is that it helps explain a lot of unconscious bias we have around this subject and how we hardly acknowledge this particular form of bias. So knowing that most rules work for extroverts help you prepare yourself better.

The fourth and final takeaway for me: Group-think, over-indexing on collaboration and open floor plans is just the conventional wisdom of our time but not the absolute truth. After reading the book I felt more confident to acknowledge that something may not be right with this approach. I may not be the most productive in an open floor plan seating. I may not have my best ideas trying to brainstorm in a room of 10 people. I may not want to always collaborate. Rather what I need is to find more quiet time to do my best work and then collaborate to build on those ideas.

To sum it up, I would like to present one of the most memorable lines for me from the book: There is no (Zero) correlation between being a good speaker and having good ideas. And a lot of problems in the world right now (including the 2008 financial crash) was due to those people making decisions who could speak well (and not necessarily know well or have good solutions).

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