Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Report: Introvert Power

It looks like the price drop on the first four books is now also available on the Nook, so you can get the cheaper e-books in the flavor of your choice.

I think I've figured out the opening to the new book. It sort of drifted into my head last night as I was falling asleep. I don't know if it's quite ready to write yet, though. I still have some stuff to work out, as the book as a whole is rather misty and vague. But first, my big task will be to send out the contract for the new YA steampunk book. It took a while and a lot of back and forth to get that finalized. This is why publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme.

I forgot to mention in last week's roundup of reading that I'd read another Patricia McKillip book, The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I'm really trying to hold back from binging on all her books, all at once, because I like the idea of knowing there's still something out there. This one had elements of Cinderella (or more like Donkeyskin, in that she was a princess working as a servant in the castle of another king and wasn't particularly abused rather than being turned into an abused servant in her own home) mixed with wizards and the fey. I'm impressed by the way she manages to write new stories that somehow feel like lost traditional fairy tales. There's this whole classification system of fairy tale elements, and it's almost like she takes several of those elements and then mixes them together in a new tale that still feels old. Even if that's not what she does, it sounds like it could be a fun way to come up with a fantasy writing prompt. I shall have to try that next time I'm between books.

But the main book I want to discuss is a non-fiction book, Quiet by Susan Cain. It's a book on introversion that not only looks at the way society regards introverts but also at some of the science explaining aspects of introversion and the way American society is cheating itself by building itself around extroversion. Learning about introversion was one of the major lightbulb moments in my life. When we'd had "introvert" and "extrovert" as vocabulary words in school, they went with "Introvert" meaning quiet and shy and "extrovert" meaning talkative and outgoing. By that definition, I'd generally be considered an extrovert, depending on the situation. I'm an Army brat, so I'm good at adapting to new things and making new friends, and I'm very verbal. I come across as "bubbly" (one of the words most frequently used to describe me). But when I was a couple of years out of college, my boss sent me to a week-long summer seminar for university public affairs professionals held at Notre Dame. At the first session, they administered the Myers-Briggs assessment -- an official one, not just one of those Internet versions. I was really shocked when the results showed me as being a strong introvert, but then the lightbulb went off and everything clicked when they explained what that meant, that it was about where your focus was and where you got your energy. It explained so much about me and why I had so many times when I felt overloaded and needed to withdraw for a while. I'd been trying to live up to an extrovert label, but liking to talk has nothing to do with where you get your energy.

This book didn't offer much in the way of revelation on that front, but it did explain a few other things about me. For one thing, introverts tend to be highly reactive to stimuli -- we get a stronger response from less stimulation, while extroverts need more stimulation to get a similar response. That's part of why introverts find crowds and noise overwhelming. Even when I'm alone, I don't keep on music or the TV for background noise. My decor is fairly simple, focusing on soothing colors like blue or green, with white walls. It even explains my worship preferences -- what my church calls "modern worship" is full of stimulation, with constant wall-of-sound music, even as background to quiet moments, and with flashing slides on screens. I want to run screaming from the building. I much prefer the quieter traditional style where one thing happens at a time and the focus is on peace and reflection.

But most of the book is about the way American society has been driven and shaped by extroversion, to the point that introversion is often seen as a flaw that needs correcting. The people with the loudest voices are the ones being heard, so they're the ones arranging things for their own benefit. The problem is that a lot of it may be based on their preferences, but it's based on wrong assumptions about what works. Take, for instance, the open-plan office, which is an extrovert's dream. The theory is that if everyone works together in one big space, they'll be more productive and creative, with ideas flowing freely. The truth, according to actual research, is that open-plan offices result in lower productivity, higher absenteeism, lower job satisfaction, more turnover and more physical illness for everyone, introvert and extrovert. Extroverts may be energized by such an arrangement, but they don't actually do their jobs better. Or take group brainstorming, which is practically a gospel in the advertising world. It doesn't really work. Even extroverts come up with more and higher quality new ideas when brainstorming alone than with a group, and the bigger the group, the poorer the output. The most effective brainstorming is for everyone to come up with ideas on their own and then share and discuss them online where everyone is more likely to speak up and where all voices are judged more evenly rather than by who seems the loudest and most enthusiastic or forceful. I wanted to send those pages to everyone I have to deal with on any projects or committees and then to go back in time and share them with all my former co-workers and employers.

It's a very interesting book, and I think even extroverts should read it because they could learn a thing or two about dealing with people. There are also some amusing anecdotes as the author explores some bastions of extroversion, like a Tony Robbins seminar. That sequence alone made me think that if Tina Fey could take a non-fiction book on the sociology of interpersonal relationships among teenage girls and turn it into the movie Mean Girls, there had to be something she could do with this book to create a comedy about an introvert trying to function in an extroverted world.

Now to go ship off a contract and then settle down for some solo brainstorming.

1 comment:

CrankyBeach said...

Some years back I heard a quick-and-easy definition that I have found useful. Extroverts can only recharge in company; introverts can only recharge alone. For whatever it's worth. :)