Book Notes: Quiet by Susan Cain

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.


If you are an introvert, this book teaches you how to design your environment so that you can thrive. If you work with introverts or design their workspace, you can learn how to get the most from them. And whilst it isn’t my main interest, there is a lot in the book on how to raise introverts to be themselves. 

The traits of highly sensitive people aka introverts

Developers perform 10x better when free from interruption

A study called the Coding War Games showed that top programmers outperform the worst by 10:1. Best performers were the ones who had the "most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption”.

To work in your sweet spot, adjust your stimulation

Introverts are more sensitive to sensory stimuli than extroverts. Organise your life in terms of optimal levels of arousal, or what Susan Cain call “sweet spots”. You can lie in a hammock reading a great novel. This is your sweet spot. After half an hour you are reading the same sentence five times; now you’re understimulated. This runs in the other direction too for overstimulation.
Pay attention to you sweet spots and how it is connected to your environment, and adjust accordingly.

Eleanor Roosevelt's Griselda moods

Eleanor Roosevelt named her dark introverted moods “Griselda moods”. Named for a princess in a medieval legend who withdrew into silence.

Find restorative niches  

Professor Brian Little is an introvert, who plays the extrovert. To avoid getting overwhelmed he creates what he calls “restorative niches”. This is a place you go when you want to return to your true self.
These can be a physical place or a temporal one (e.g. quiet breaks between sales calls). It can mean cancelling social plans on a weekend before a big meeting at work or choosing email over an in-person meeting.

People become idiots to conform

Solomon Asch showed in a series of studies (1951 - 56) the power of conformity. He gave participants very simple questions. 95% of participants answered all correctly. When he planted actors who confidently volunteered incorrect answers first, only 25% of participants answered all correctly.

The Pain of Independence

Gregory Berns updated Solomon Asch’s studies on conformity with an fMRI scanner. He found that when people conform there is not extra activity in the decision-making prefrontal cortex, but there is in regions associated with visual and spatial perception. The mind is changed at a subconscious level. People are blind to the fact that they have conformed.
And when participants didn’t conform there was heightened activation in the amygdala. Berns refers to this as “the pain of independence”.

Online brainstorming is better than group brainstorming

Group brainstorming is counter-productive for creativity.
Marvin Dunnette conducted a study (1963) with 48 men in groups of four. They were given a problem to brainstorm e.g. the benefits or difficulties of being born with an extra thumb.
They produced more, and better, ideas working individually than as a group.
The exception is online brainstorming. The larger the group, the better it performs.
Make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas before they contribute.

"There can never be enough silence when one writes"

“One can never be alone enough when one writes;

there can never be enough silence around one when one writes;

even night is not night enough.”

— Kafka

Daily doughnuts fuel collaboration  

When Steve Wozniak worked at Hewlett-Packard, HP made it easy to chat to other. Every day at 10 am and 2 pm, management wheeled in doughnuts and coffee. People would socialise and swap ideas. The interactions were low key and relaxed.
This fuels creativity and a free exchange of ideas, and you can disappear back to your cubicle whenever you want.

One new relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards

Rule of thumb for networking events: one new honest-to-goodness relationship is worth ten fistfuls of business cards.

Extroverts don't slow down to learn from their mistakes

Joseph Newman ran a study with a number pressing game. 12 different numbers flash on screen, one at a time, in no particular order. Participants get a button, which they can press when a number appears. Press for a “good” number and they get points; press for a “bad” one and you lose points. Nothing happens if you don’t press the buttoThroughugh trial and error they learn the good and bad numbers.
Occasionally people press the button for a bad number, even when they should know better. Are making such a mistake, introverts will slow down, as if to reflect on what went wrong. Extroverts not only fail to slow down, but speed up!
John Brebner & Chris Cooper say introverts are “geared to inspect” and extroverts “geared to respond”.

Stay with problems longer

“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

Desensitise to the fear of failing publically

Enter low-stakes competitions far away from home, where you can feel anonymous and no one will know if you fail.

A blush says I care  

When people do something wrong, they are judged more positively if they blush, according to a study by Corine Dijk. This is because the blush signifies concern for others. Dacher Keltner, a psychologist, said “a blush comes online in two or three seconds and says, ‘I care; I know I violated the social contract.’”

Botox stops you getting angry  

"People who use Botox, which prevents them from making angry faces, seem to be less anger-prone than those who don’t because the very act of frowning triggers the amygdala to process negative emotions."

People buy when they feel understood  

Extroverts appreciate talking to introverts as it is safe to get serious. Jon Berghoff, an introverted salesman says “People don’t buy from me because they understand what I’m selling. They buy because they feel understood.”

Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth  

Susan Cain suggests when identifying the right career path for you, you should pay attention to what you envy. “Jealousy is an ugly emotion,” she writes, “but it tells the truth.”
Do you envy people in your profession or people in other fields of work?

Nature vs. nurture: is a blizzard caused by temperature or humidity?

On whether introversion comes from genes:

“To ask whether it’s nature or nature is like asking

whether a blizzard is caused by temperature or humidity.”

Studies have consistently shown introversion/extroversion is 40-50% heritable.

The origin of "having thin skin", "cool" and "cold"

High-reactive introverts sweat more; low-reactive introverts sweat less. Their skin is literately “thicker”, more impervious to stimuli, cooler to the touch.
This is where being socially “cool” comes from; the lower-restive you are, the cooler your skin, the cooler you are.
Sociopaths are at the extreme of the scale, hence they are “cold”.