Still - The power of the introverts

Still - The power of the introverts

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Book review: Still / The Power of the Introverts

Susan Cain works as a negotiator in the United States. She is constantly confronted with a society in which extroverts are the yardstick and introverts have to “work on their weaknesses”. "Their characteristics such as seriousness, sensitivity and shyness are now considered symptoms of illness, rather than qualities," says the opening text in the book "Still / The Power of the Introvert".

Cain thinks this is a big mistake. On the one hand, it discriminates against the introverts, on the other hand, their potential is very valuable. Her strengths included care, respect and the ability to listen.

Extroverts as ideal

According to Cain, extroverts are systematically preferred in the United States. For example, the renowned Harvard University focused on “healthy extrovert young men”. The ideal employee is not a deep thinker, but an extrovert with a representative mentality. Scientists should not only be good in their field, but also help with marketing, be mate and sell.

America - the land of action

According to Cain Extroversion, the focus in America is far more than in Asia or Africa, for example. One explanation for this is the history of the United States as an immigration country. People who moved out into the world were more extroverted than sedentary people. Each wave of immigration led to a new gathering of extroverts, each proportionately larger than in their country of origin.

The Greeks and Romans already appreciated extroverts, as evidenced by the importance of rhetoric among the Greeks. In America, even Christianity, with its redeeming cults, used the preacher's talent for acting.

The early Americans even glorified energy so much that they despised intellectuality and "associated intellectual life with the sluggish and ineffective aristocracy they had left behind." Very few American presidential candidates were introverted.

Introversion as a mental illness

Today, status, income and self-confidence are closely linked to selling well and never showing fear. The yardstick of fearless self-expression is getting higher, so that every fifth American is now considered pathologically shy. As Cain reports, the fear of speaking to others is not considered a disadvantage by psychology in the United States, but even a disease.

Invitation to unscrupulousness

The motto still applies: “Talking everything is selling, selling everything is talking”. This turns into questionable goals. "Should we be so adept at presenting ourselves that we can pretend without being noticed?" (57). The ideal of extroversion turns into unscrupulous aspirations, says Cain.

The myth of charismatic leadership

Sales mentality became a virtue in the United States, writes Cain, and explains how it came about: In the beginning of the personality cult, it was that developing an extroverted personality helps to outperform others in the competition. Today Americans would think that they are extroverted, make them better people.

Nobody strolls, strolls or dawdles on the Harvard Business School campus. Everyone hurried and greeted each other lively, no one was overweight, bad skin or unsuitable accessories. A student said to her: “This university is based on extraversion. The grades and social status depend on it. ”(73)

The university sets standards such as: "Even if you only believe something 55 percent, that is, as if you believed 100 percent in it" or "It is better to get up and say something than never to express yourself." (78) Sociability among students be like extreme sport. Creating a large social network is not like wasting your time.

Misconceptions about creativity

Even companies that employed designers and artists were looking for extroverts and creatively defined them as "sociable, funny and in a good mood ..." (81). Without Cain mentioning it, these are skills that have nothing to do with the quality of a designer or artist. It is no coincidence that Nike's advertising slogan "Just do it" has become so successful.

However, Harvard Business School itself designed a role play in which it became clear that quick and confident leadership was not entirely correct. She started a game "Surviving in the subpolar region" to teach group synergy, that is, successful teamwork. It was here that it was shown that precisely the groups could fail who overestimated their self-assertion. In this way, the loudest participants had prevailed with their ideas, less loud ones had been dismissed (although the ideas might have been better).

Constructive paranoia

This game described by Cain can be vividly imagined in a real existing situation. Unthinking but quick suggestions quickly lead to the death of everyone. Because these have it in them that they do not carefully go through all aspects. What Cain doesn't mention, but evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond, is constructive paranoia common to indigenous peoples. So you behave cautiously in situations where there is supposedly no imminent danger. For example, the people of Papua New Guinea systematically research the trees all around before setting up camp. This way you can be sure that you won't be hit by falling trees when you sleep underneath. Even if the likelihood for this is extremely small, the more people sleep under the trees, the more it increases.

Untapped potential

Cain thinks there is a reason to worry if quieter participants are less involved in solutions. People who talk more would be judged to be smarter, better looking and more personable. Those who speak quickly are considered to be more competent and more attractive than slow speakers. Studies have shown that there is no connection between quick speech and prudence.

What do introverted leaders do better?

Extroverted executives are better if the employees tend to be passive, introverts if the employees show initiative. Introverts listened to their employees' suggestions and implemented them. They set in motion a positive cycle of initiative. On the other hand, extroverts can quickly lose sight of the good ideas of others. While literature gives advice on how introverts should improve their rhetorical skills, extroverts should learn to sit down so that others can get up.

Overdose of creative collaboration

According to Cain, today's model of teamwork strives for an overdose of creative collaboration and refers to statements that inventors, engineers and artists are mostly shy head people. It would be best to work alone, not on a committee or a team.

At least, she points to studies, many introverts are very creative. This is also no coincidence, because being alone is often crucial for creativity and productivity. Introversion prevents distraction on sexual and social matters that have nothing to do with work.

Autonomy instead of peer pressure

The author suggests teaching children to work independently and giving employees a lot of privacy and autonomy. The new group thinking, however, puts teamwork above everything. It insists that creativity and intellectual performance are a community thing. Companies would increasingly organize their workforce into teams, and 91 percent of all top managers, Cain said, believe that teams are key to success.

But while some people need to fit harmoniously into a group, others want to remain independent. Leadership and leadership are not the same either. Cain refers to introverted intellectuals like Charles Darwin, who spent many years of his life in loneliness. In short: extroverts often achieved a social leadership role, introverts rather a theoretical or aesthetic leadership role.

Alone as an engine

Targeted practice requires high concentration, which could distract other people. You have to get high motivation from yourself. Working alone means working on what is most difficult for the practitioner personally. If you want to improve, you have to tackle the challenging part directly. In a learning group, this step is taken over by others. Teenagers who were too outgoing often did not cultivate their talents because they were afraid of loneliness. For example, Charles Darwin took long, lonely walks in nature as a child.

In a study, the best programmers in companies worked with maximum privacy, personal space, and control over their physical environment, reports Cain. Open-plan offices, on the other hand, reduced productivity and worsened memory. People would learn better after a quiet walk in the forest than after walking through a noisy city. One of the biggest obstacles to productivity is being interrupted. Multitasking has proven to be a myth. In reality, those affected would not solve several tasks at the same time, but would jump back and forth between them, which would lower productivity.

Large groups paralyze performance

Personal freedom is just as essential for creativity as freedom from group pressure. Brainstorming in the group doesn't work. The performance decreases with increasing group size. Nevertheless, brainstorming in groups is popular as ever. The reason is not the demonstrable poor performance, but the fact that people feel socially integrated. So the benefit is social cohesion, not creativity.

Brainstorming in a group fails for three reasons, which cannot be removed either: firstly, the individuals in a group would lean back, secondly, only one could give an idea at a time, which would be detrimental to the productivity of the other, and thirdly, there would be fear of assessment to be stupid in front of peers.


Cain provides scientifically proven and practice-proof evidence to keep introverts more introverted than before and to give them the privacy in which they work better than in the group. Her intensive experience as a negotiator becomes clear, which allows her to recognize wrong judgments about creativity on the one hand and self-expression on the other. However, this focus on practice is also the weakness of the book. It pulls the reader straight into the action without psychologically clarifying what extroverted and introverted means in general, or what characterizes such structured characters.

This can be recognized somehow between the lines, but only there. It is therefore advisable to read introductions to the differences between personalities beforehand or in parallel. In addition, she focuses on the conditions in the USA, which may not make it understandable for the local readership at all times. With the nimbus of "poets and thinkers", Germany is traditionally a country in which lonely thinkers, the silence in nature and the inwardness of romanticism were even ideals, and in this regard there is a counterpoint to the "just do it" of the USA.

It would be interesting for readers in this country to compare how the thought patterns described by Cain have crept into Germany and whether they are in contrast to the so-often quoted "German inwardness". Nevertheless, it is always worth reading, especially because Cain ultimately provides valuable practical tips for parents on how best to support introverted children. In addition, she does away with the fairy tale that everyone has to sell themselves in every situation in the best possible way - regardless of whether this corresponds to his or her character. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)


Susan Cain: Quiet. The power of the introverts. Goldmann 2018. ISBN: 978-3-442-15764-8

Author and source information

Video: Introvert vs Extrovert vs Ambivert - Who Wins? (January 2023).