Take A Look At What I’m Reading: “Quiet” by Susan Cain

ImageIt took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I found myself underlining a lot of statements and then whole paragraphs that perfectly described me.

I’ve always preferred to work alone and be left alone. All of my hobbies were solitary: puzzles, writing, and reading. Not much has changed since then. When I’m doing academic work, I need isolation; in high school, study hall was completely useless. When I had to write a long thesis-like paper, I got the paper done in half the assigned time because I worked alone during long periods of solitary time (to be fair, that was also the year I barely attended class, so while others sat in earth science, I was busy researching from the comfort of my couch).

The part that grabbed me was when Ms. Cain started discussing group dynamics and how introverts interact in them, and even how being in groups is considerably less efficient than working alone. It affirmed my dislike of working in groups. I had to do it all through high school, but my worst experience was in college, when we had to do a group presentation on a topic in my New Testament class. It’s always tricky to decide how to divide up group work; how can a presentation be coherent and streamlined with 3-4 different people each working at their own skill level and with their own unique style? It’s like asking a committee to design a horse; you always end up with a camel. We didn’t have much time for the presentation, so we each did our part without ever seeing the others. There was weird places where things overlapped, gaps, and one of the students in our group just decided it was the perfect time to go on a rant about an irrelevant topic he was passionate about. We got a low score and I remember thinking, “Duh. Group presentations just don’t work.”

In her book, Ms. Cain writes that studies keep coming up that show group brainstorming is not efficient, even though people who participate believe they performed better than they did in reality. Problems with group brainstorming are aplenty, including the tendency for extroverts to dominate the session while introverts withdraw and are less likely to bring forth their own ideas. I’ve worked with younger people and seen this in practice; extroverts will speak louder and quicker, which often means they haven’t thought about their ideas first. Introverts were quiet and needed more coaxing. Further in the book, Ms. Cain says a troubling fact is that even if an answer is wrong, mixed groups of both introverts and extroverts are more likely to believe it is right, even if individually they have decided upon the correct answer.

Luckily, in this age of the internet, online brainstorming in groups works really well, because people are basically still alone. There isn’t a fear of having to deal with people face-to-face or a sense of time running out. The internet is totally a good thing and I will challenge anyone who says otherwise.

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