Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Western society tends to favor extroverted personality traits to introverted ones. A result is that many of our most important decisions (when to go to war, how to invest our retirement funds, etc.) are made by the extroverts who occupy the top positions of companies and governments.

Although relatively new (about the last 150 years), society’s bias toward extroverted talent permeates almost every aspect of professional life, including office layouts. With the laudable goal of improving teamwork and collaboration, open office floor plans have left those of us who require more solo cerebral focus with few places to “be,” which has taken a significant toll on our effectiveness.

Cain, a self-described introvert, lays out several solutions that leaders in business and government might adopt to improve the productivity and well-being of all of their team members—extroverts and introverts alike. Her discussions about finding and facilitating each individual’s ideal balance of group and solo (or one-on-one) activities were specially helpful. Most introverts can pretend to be extroverts for some portion of the day (and should be to some extent). But too much feigned extroversion will result in unhealthy stress and burn-out, which are avoidable if we’re just free to find and achieve the right activity balance.

I’m an introvert in a lot of ways, but not in every way. “Quiet” has helped me to acknowledge and want to foster some of my introvert qualities that I might otherwise try to mask. It has also helped me to be more cognizant of the valuable qualities of others that might otherwise go unappreciated when juxtaposed with certain unmissable talents of the many extroverts (about 2/3 of the population) around us.

This review also appears in Goodreads.

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and BusinessSmarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Duhigg is a compelling storyteller. Here he uses memorable stories to teach useful lessons on how to increase personal productivity. That said, he could have done more to convince the reader of the universality of the principles that he extrapolates from these stories.

This review also appears in Goodreads.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens  By: Benedict Carey

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens

By: Benedict Carey

There are some good tips in here. But even for a short book, it's a little too long. Subtract the fluff and you have a handy pamphlet of advice that looks something like the following:

Information Retention and Retrieval

1. It can be useful to temporarily forget what we learn. The act of later trying to remember information thought to be forgotten is a "desirable difficulty" that ultimately works to hardwire that information more permanently in our memories and make it easier to recall. Forgetting also helps the mind filter out the irrelevant parts of the information. 

2. Retention of information is significantly greater when we force ourselves to try to remember what we've learned rather than just reviewing the information itself. 

3. Writing down what we've learned from memory, even if it's not perfectly accurate at the moment, before immediately referring to our past notes or the material itself is significantly more effective in terms of retention and future retrievability than just reviewing. For example. highlighting text, reviewing those highlights and reviewing previously prepared outlines are only somewhat effective (these are very passive approaches) compared to forcing ourselves to actually reproduce / write down what we know.

4. We recall information better when the contextual cues are the same as those when we learned the information. E.g., students test better when listening to the same music as when they studied that information. Contextual cues act as a sort of hint toward the right information. 

5. We should very the times and places that we study. One reason this may help is that our minds will associate more contextual cues with the information studied.

6. Breaking up study time into short sessions over several days, weeks and months, produces long-term retention levels significantly greater than studying the content for the same amount of time over one or two long study sessions. 

7. For certain subject matters, taking a test before learning any of the content significantly aids comprehension and retention of that information after studying it. Recognizing in advance what we don't know helps us to hold onto that information once we learn it.

Problem Solving

1. "Incubation" time is important. Time away from the puzzle while it lingers in the back of the mind helps us see connections and possibilities that aren’t apparent in the moment of focusing on the problem.

2. Puzzles that require multiple attempts before achieving an a-ha moment (especially spatial relationship problems) are best solved by taking a break away from thinking about them after the first few unsuccessful attempts. 

3. It's actually beneficial to be interrupted in the middle of trying to solve a problem. The brain will keep the problem in memory and be more prone to find solutions in day-to-day experiences. The details of a solution to a problem already solved are much more easily forgotten than the working details of a solution to a problem not yet solved.

4. Varied practice (applying several different applications/approaches of a skill) is more beneficial than focused practice. E.g., practicing different kinds of shots versus just free-throws makes you shoot better free throws over the long run (but not necessarily or the short term). 

Subconscious Learning

1. Chunking pieces of information into meaningful groups increases understanding. E.g., a good eye in sports, the ability for a chess master to memorize the board after a glance, or linking squiggles to letters to words to paragraphs to ideas, etc. Benefiting from this type of grouping of information comes after a lot of experience with that type of information. 

2. Sleep, particularly REM sleep, is how the brain organizes and categorizes useful information obtained while conscious, and filters out less relevant information. Failing to get enough REM sleep significantly decreases one's ability to retain and retrieve information and solve complex problems.

Overall rating: 3/5

This review also appears in Goodreads