Author speaks up for the introverts among us

Cover of "Quiet"
The cover of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," by Susan Cain.
Courtesy of Random House

Author Susan Cain grew up in a book-loving family, where it was OK to while away the hours reading in quiet togetherness. But encounters outside her family kept telling her that if she was ever going to be "normal" or successful, she needed to come out of her shell.

Read the post-show takeaway

As hard as this was, Cain said in a TED Talk last year, she forced herself into this extroverted world and even became a Wall Street lawyer instead of the quiet writer she had dreamed of being.

Cain, the author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking," told the TED audience about the benefits of being an introvert.

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There's a difference between shy and introverted, she says: "Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Introversion is more about: How do you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation? So extroverts really crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel at their most alive and their most switched-on and their most capable when they're in quieter, more low-key environments. Not all the time — these things aren't absolute — but a lot of the time."

It's in these quiet environments, Cain says, that introverts are able to tap into their creativity.

The problem, as Cain sees it, is that large parts of American society, like work and school, are geared toward extroverts. In an era of group-project classrooms and open-floor-plan offices, how should people embrace and work with introverts?

Everyone, even extroverts, Cain says, can benefit from quiet time to reflect, be and just think.

THE TAKEAWAY: Maybe we depend upon a balance of both types.

Abraham Lincoln
A photograph of President Abraham Lincoln taken by Matthew Brady in 1861.
Image courtesy of the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection

In her conversation with host Tom Weber, Cain used various presidents as illustrations.

"If you look back to the 19th century, it was not the extroverted society that we have today," she said. "Back then it was what historians call a 'culture of character.'... Were you a person of good character, or not?

"And that could apply equally to introverts and extroverts. And in fact figures like Abraham Lincoln were praised and admired for being modest and unassuming. Which you can't even imagine nowadays for a politician.

President Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about today's bombing at the Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"I would say President Obama probably is an introvert, and not a shy one ... you don't get the impression that he's overly worried about what people think of him.

"But he does seem like somebody who craves solitude, who prefers to think and reflect before making decisions, and who's been criticized for not doing as much of the schmoozy back-slapping that is normally expected of a politician.

"I think our appetite for that kind of leader swings back and forth. We had a President Bush before that, where the kind of litmus test during the campaign was, 'Is this somebody who you'd want to drink a beer with?' And I think people were sated with that way of looking at things, and then they started going for the more thoughtful, reflective style. But then they grow impatient with that ... .

George W. Bush
U.S. President George W. Bush speaks publically for a final time as president from the East Room of the White House January 15, 2009 in Washington, DC. President-elect Barack Obama will be sworn in on January 20.
Photo by Mannie Garcia-Pool/Getty Images)

"I certainly didn't mean in the slightest to suggest any moral difference between the two, and in fact when talking about George Bush and Obama I also wasn't making any political points. If you're looking at politicians, President Clinton on the other side of the divide is the consummate extrovert. So they really come in all different types. Really, I see these types as a kind of yin and yang, who love each other and need each other, and that our society works best when we have them both working at full capacity with mutual understanding."


Quiet Quiz: Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
"This is an informal 12 question quiz, adapted from 'Quiet' by Susan Cain, based on characteristics of introversion commonly accepted by contemporary researchers." (

As office space shrinks and opens up, workers interact and distract
"We're throwing everyone out into these big open plans, where there's very little respite from the noise of other people around you, from the gaze of your co-workers, from the interruptions of your co-workers." (Susan Cain, quoted by MPR)

All about introversion
"If a crowded cocktail party feels like a holding cell to you, even as you gamely keep up your end of the chatter, chances are you're an introvert." (Psychology Today)

On the Job: Introverts win in the end
"Extroverts aren't the most successful at work in the long run; instead, the quiet, neurotic, introverted employees who often fret about what others think of them come out on top, a study says." (USA Today)