Do You Want to Stay Under the Covers With a Good Book?

In 2012 Susan Cain published her seminal book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and started a revolution.  Cain, a self-confessed introvert, began to notice that the world didn’t seem to value its quieter members and continually put added value on those who spoke up, took charge, stood out and stepped up. 

Cain, an accomplished citizen with an undergraduate degree from Princeton and law degree from Harvard, was not coming at her subject from a place of failure.  But she did notice that those with more ‘front and center’ personalities did seem to be valued more highly.   Was this a fair assessment?  Was this a gender bias?  Were extroverts better managers, problem solvers, creatives and leaders?  Or was this a misnomer — like some long held wisdom that the world was flat.   If notions privileging extroverts were outdated, what could be done about it? 

Cain spent seven years researching and writing before Quiet exploded on the scene along with her subsequent venture, — an online and in-person initiative whose mission is to help corporations, individuals, teachers and parents unlock the power of introverts for the benefit of everyone. 

Cain’s point is that introverts come at the world and walk through the world with very different sensibilities than extroverts (and ambiverts) and though they are often less valued, they have enormous contributions to make within families, social groups, corporations and society. 

“….researchers have made exciting discoveries aided by the latest technology, but they’re part of a long and storied tradition.  Poets and philosophers have been thinking about introverts and extroverts since the dawn of recorded time.  Both personality types appear in the Bible and in the writings of Greek and Roman physicians, and some evolutionary psychologists say that the history of these types reaches back even farther then that:  the animal kingdom also boasts ‘introverts’ and ‘extroverts,’ as we’ll see, from fruit flies to pumpkinseed fish to rhesus monkeys.  As with other complimentary pairings — masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative — humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality styles.” Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Books of Introverts

Many books on the power of introverts have followed Cain’s, but hers led the pack.   It’s a terrific read that chronicles the rise of the extrovert personality in the 20th century, how social privileging of the extrovert has impacted our culture and our beliefs.  Throughout, she introduces us to the introverts from history who had a major impact upon the world and tells the stories of ‘regular’ introverts who are quietly changing the world.   Plus, the book is full of great advice if you’re an introvert — much of it is advice to parents who have birthed an introverted child — but don’t disregard it if you’re an adult introvert.  Most of it you can apply to your own introverted life! 

As I read Quiet, I started thinking about introverts in classic literature.  A few quickly came to mind:  Jay Gatsby and Nick Carraway, Jane Eyre, Heathcliff, Anne Elliott, Holden Caulfield, David Cooperfield to name a few.   But the one famous character whose introvert tendencies never seemed to hold him back from success was Mr. Sherlock Holmes. 

It’s virtually impossible for any of us to read Holmes these days without thinking about the television and movie actors who’ve created the Holmes personas.  That acknowledged, I’d invite you to consider putting these images aside and read the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet with an eye to understanding the character of an introvert (Sherlock Holmes) and the character of an extrovert (Dr. John Watson) — and more significantly, learn how they’re able to work together.    It’s quite a terrific read.

Holmes and Watson  =  Introvert and Extrovert

A Study in Scarlet came from the pen of Arthur Conan Doyle, a country physician whose skills as a doctor were apparently not revered since his schedule was not overburdened with patients.  His more relaxed practice gave Dr. Doyle plenty of time to write short stories.   In 1886, his first Sherlock Holmes story (including full copyrights to the story) was bought by Ward Lock & Co. and published the following year.  Thus began one of the most successful writing careers in history, launched one of the world’s most famous pairings of an introvert and extrovert – Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson respectively, and doubtless saved several patients in Southsea, Portsmouth from mediocre medical advice. 

The world first came to know the soon to be famous detective through the eyes of his lively friend, Dr. Watson:

“Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with.  He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular.  It was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning.  Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes i the dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take him into the lowest portions of the city.  Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; “      A Study in Scarlet

Reading Conan Doyle’s  A Study in Scarlet in conjunction with Cain’s Quiet will help illustrate why we need to celebrate the tendencies of both introverts and extroverts and learn to work with each other. It’s a two fold process:

1.  Get in touch with your tendency — introvert or extrovert — celebrate it!

2.  Recognize the other half of the world and learn to work with your opposite — it will improve your outcomes. 

Watson may not have solved the crime — but he provided companionship, worked as a foil and supplied energy;  not to mention that he often asked questions or made comments that helped Sherlock move toward a solution.   They were a team.   

Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, a fan or not of Sherlock Holmes —  Quiet is an important read for anyone working with people (which is mostly all of us) as a manager, partner, friend, teacher, parent or coach.   

Some takeaways

Here are a few of my personal takeaways from reading Quiet:   

It’s Ok to be an introvert.  I’m an introvert so it made me more comfortable owning who I truly am.  I’m a little happier.  

— Introverts can learn to be more extroverted.  I don’t need to be stuck in my introverted tendencies — I can learn extroverted skills that will help get me to my next chapter.

Introverts tend to need a longer runway.  The book explained my desire for a longer runway when taking on a new task.  I’ve learned to plan around my need for a longer runway when tackling a new project.  

Extroverts are important, too.  I’m more mindful of the extroverts in my life.  They are less annoying.  I’ve come to see them as  a source of inspiration, information and energy.

  Take responsibility for your propensity.  I need to gently remind good friends and family of my tendency (while respecting their tendency).  I now remind my friends:  “You guys know I’m an introvert so I’m not always comfortable in crowds — if I slow up and get quiet when we’re at the concert — I know you’ll understand and not think I’m not having a good time, OK?” 

  Create a schedule that honors you.  I’m learning to honor and schedule my introvert time after I’ve been working as an extrovert coaching and speaking.  I need extra hours to go inward, to sit quietly, take a long walk or hide under the covers with a good book.

Mostly I learned that the world needs both — introverts & extroverts.  One is not better than the other.  We often flip back and forth in our tendency.  The more we learn about ourselves and our ‘other half’ — the better and faster we’ll get to our next chapter.  Just ask Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes!

‘Come, Watson, come!’ he cried. ‘The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!’      — Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson from The Adventure of The Abbey Grange

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