As I have mentioned before, I am Mr. Extrovert married to Mrs. Introvert. ("How To Care For Introverts" never leaves our fridge.) My dad taught the Myers-Briggs type indicator and had me tested when I was very young. (ENTP, if you’re curious.) I credit my wife’s and my knowledge of extroversion/introversion as one of the things that has kept our marriage together for half a decade.
So, I was very happy to read Ms. Cain’s book. It is a good book. It’s also #21 on Amazon — it was higher last week when I checked, which means it’s obviously striking a nerve, and Ms. Cain just gave a TED talk, which means it’s going to get even bigger. Consider for a minute how publishers must’ve wet their pants over this book—while it’s estimated that 1/3-1/2 of us are introverts, I’d be willing to bet money that the fraction is much higher when it comes to people who read actually buy and read books. This is, essentially, a book of affirmation for readers, saying, “It’s okay that you’d rather snuggle up and read a book instead of go to that party on Friday night — you’re okay, there’s nothing wrong with you!” In fact, Cain writes this lovely passage in the acknowledgements:
In our house, reading was the primary group activity. On Saturday afternoons we curled up with our books in the den. It was the best of both worlds: you had the animal warmth of your family right next to you, but you also got to roam around the adventure-land inside your own head.
Now, I will admit: As someone who doesn’t have a thought until he says or scribbles it, I’m actually quite envious of introverts. Introversion is very helpful to writers: when it comes to getting work done, the ability to focus for hours on a task without intrusion or stimulation from the outside world? Priceless. (Where extroversion comes in handy is when it comes to selling the work and spreading the ideas.)
A book is what you bring to it, and I am an extroverted, book-crazy writer. A rare beast. Introverts tend to drive extroverts crazy anyways, but what drives them even crazier is the sneaking suspicion that somehow introverts are “smarter” than extroverts. But have no fear, on page 168, Cain finally admits: “Introverts are not smarter than extroverts.”
Anyways, my favorite chapter was “When Collaboration Kills Creativity: The Rise of the New Groupthink and the Power of Working Alone.” (This is an idea floating around right now—Jonah Lehrer had a piece in the New Yorker recently called “Brainstorming Doesn’t Work.”) Yes, I am an extrovert, but I hate open office plans, meetings, and brainstorming, and nothing drove me crazier in school than group projects. (“artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee…”)
There’s also a brilliant section describing a Tony Robbins seminar that reads like a George Saunders short story. Very, very funny.
This is a book that everyone—especially those not familiar with introversion—should probably read. Extroverts, you will find it annoying in spots, but then again, you’ve been annoying the shit out of the introverts you know for your whole life, so suck it up.