In Or Ex?

In Or Ex?

In this #1 New York Times bestseller, noted TED talker Susan Cain parses the differences and common ground between introverts and extroverts and helps both identify and accept their natures.


In this number one New York Times bestseller – and People, Library Journal, Inc., Christian Science Monitor and O: The Oprah Magazine Best Book of the Year – noted introvert Susan Cain, a former Wall Street lawyer, offers a refreshing, engaging take on the hidden value of introversion. Her text brims with originality and insight. Proof of the appeal of her perceptions is that her 2012 TED Talk on introversion and quietude became one of the most-watched ever. Cain will inform and possibly change your perception of yourself, other people, teams and the organization of society.

Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. Susan Cain

She discusses how cautious, thoughtful and reticent people – particularly in the West – can suffer discrimination in a culture that celebrates and monetizes the “Extrovert Ideal.” To get the best from each employee, Cain says, leaders must play to people’s strengths and avoid pressuring them to conform – no easy trick.


Cain can barely stand extroverts because they impose on her peacefulness, but she shows compassion for them as well as for introverts like herself. Whichever you are, Cain urges you to maximize your talents, skills and peace of mind by finding equilibrium. Put yourself in the right places or circumstances to access the level of stimulation that works for you, but no more than that if you’re an introvert – and for extroverts, no less.

Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them.Susan Cain

Imagine you’re reading at home. The words on the pages blur. You feel “understimulated.” You call your best – extroverted – friend to meet for brunch. The conversation and surroundings raise you to your ideal level of stimulation. But your extroverted friend feels understimulated, and drags you to a block party. You feel “overstimulated” and experience a powerful, irresistible need for solitude. You race home to your book, which restores your equilibrium. Cain thus urges you to recognize your nature and accept it.


Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, Cain advises, recognize and protect your vulnerabilities and understand your shortcomings.

Cain makes clear – without ever saying so outright – that she describes her own introverted personality and her surprise at how readily she embraced what she assumed would be impossible behavior for her: Promoting this book after the quietness of writing it. Extroverted readers may think, “What’s the big deal?” Introverts will take inspiration from her example.

A Myth

Extroverts get distracted easily. They crave stimulation and thrill to the excitement that arises during social interactions and risk taking. Cain notes that these traits allow extroverts to take chances, speak up and make friends. But most extroverts crave status – an external confirmation of their internal self-portraits. And the extrovert’s popularity and extracurricular activities serve to position him or her well for graduate school and success beyond, while the introvert stays in the dorm reading under the blankets.

I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it is for introverts to take stock of their own talents, and how powerful it is when they finally do.Susan Cain

Cain recognizes that faking behavior in the pursuit of your passion makes the way smoother. Repeating this practice over months and years helps you develop the skills of the opposite personality. Your introversion, for example, may prevent you from feeling comfortable speaking in front of hundreds of people. But you might become one of the most celebrated public speakers on the planet, as happened to Cain with her TED Talk. And you might even enjoy it.

Noisy Extroverts

Cain regards extroverts with scorn, wonder and envy. She understands, however ruefully, that the United States might lead the world in extroversion. What is the source of so much American bluster, she asks? The source may be, in part, the mass migration from rural communities to cities in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th.

Extroverts tend to tackle assignments quickly…Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately.Susan Cain

Qualities once prized by Americans – an independent spirit of few words, all character, no boasts – no longer carry much social currency. Those rugged monosyllabic Western movie heroes played by Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart would be in the corner today, watching sadly as the blustery bully gets the schoolmarm. These days, teachers, peers and parents push kids to be outgoing, to speak up and to socialize.

Quiet Introverts

Introverts make up one-third to one-half of the US population. Their struggle to fit in and act like extroverts robs workplaces and society of their most valuable contributions. Much of the Western world so idealizes extroverts that many people now regard introversion as a condition to correct. Today, introverts feel they must hide their true nature to fit in and get ahead. Executives choose future leaders for their loud, obnoxious boldness rather than for their thoughtfulness and caution. Cain can’t resist editorializing and claims that in 2008, after years of boisterous extroverts rejecting caution and risk aversion on Wall Street, they brought the world a financial disaster. Then, of course, being extroverts, they crowed about how none of it was their fault.

We can trace our admiration of extroverts to the Greeks, for whom oratory was an exalted skill, and to the Romans, for whom the worst possible punishment was banishment from the city, with its teeming social life.Susan Cain

Cain endorses her kind of folks with a list of introverts who created breakthroughs in government, art, science and business: Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbra Streisand, Gandhi and Dr. Seuss. Cain ensures that even extroverts will recognize how the reserved and the quiet can and do improve the world.

Careful and Kind

Cain is a gentle, witty and thorough writer. She makes her points elegantly and then underscores them. Because she clearly favors introverts, her descriptions of extroverts are surprisingly rueful and often hilarious. Cain tries to find a use for them, but…

Her legal training shows in Cain’s careful construction of her arguments and equally careful citing of telling examples. Her thought-provoking treatise will engage teachers, parents, HR professionals, recruiters, managers, executives and anyone interested in self-discovery, however uncomfortable. Also, it will underscore for introverts their true – if often unrecognized – moral, intellectual and social superiority.

Susan Cain also wrote Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole; Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids and Quiet Journal: Discover Your Secret Strengths and Unleash Your Inner Power.

Share this Story
Show all Reviews