Book Club: Quiet (Week 4)

· 5 min read
Book Club: Quiet (Week 4)
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Two chapters this week: 'Chapter 7: Why Did Wall Street Crash and Warren Buffet Prosper?' and 'Chapter 8: Soft Power'.

Reward Sensitivity

Cain introduces the concept of reward sensitivity, which drives us to chase goals like sex, money, social status, and influence. I find myself in a curious position here – I am indeed sensitive to rewards, but not to those particular ones. My impulses often lead me to buy things I don't need: a new gadget, a book I hope to read someday, or a shirt that catches my eye. These purchases frequently bring regret, though I've improved in recent years, largely thanks to my wife.

This brings me to the Enneagram, which offers more nuance than the simple introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy. While sevens are often seen as classic extroverts and fives as classic introverts, I'm a one on the Enneagram. Ones tend to be more introverted, but during periods of growth, we adopt traits of sevens and become more extroverted. Conversely, in stressful times, we resemble fours. It's complex 😅, but I've found the Enneagram incredibly helpful for understanding myself and others. This complexity aligns with my experiences discussed in Cain’s book. I've always considered myself an introvert, yet I sometimes exhibit extroverted traits. Whether reward sensitivity is one of those traits is unclear to me, but I do know that being overly cautious in response to potential risks is not my style.

When something excites me, I focus on all its positive and thrilling aspects, akin to the traits of a seven. However, if something doesn't appeal to me or has previously led to disappointment, I'm fully aware of the downsides. For instance, if someone offers me a job at a friend's small business, I know that's not for me.

This seems to be another attribute controlled by our amygdalae – in addition to anxiety that leads people to be highly reactive, the level of one’s sensitivity to rewards comes from one’s amygdala. In the first case, the introvert’s amygdala is over-active leading to the introverted highly sensitive behaviour; in the second, the extrovert’s amygdala is over-active leading to the extroverted reward-seeking behaviour.


Introverts, in contrast, are constitutionally programmed to downplay reward – to kill their buzz, you might say – and scan for problems.

It feels like we’re trying to connect too many things to the introvert/extrovert descriptor. I know introverts on both sides of the equation here. I don’t usually downplay the possible rewards, I am often looking on the bright side, though I deeply respect those who make what I would consider to be smarter and less impulsive decisions.

Giving Up

Extroverts are more likely to take a quick-and-dirty approach to problem-solving, trading accuracy for speed, making increasing numbers of mistakes as they go, and abandoning ship altogether when the problem seems too difficult or frustrating.

I am more likely to take the quick-and-dirty approach but don’t usually abandon ship and generally find if I put more time in I can get to a good answer, no matter how complex the problem.

Reward-Seeking or Threat-Avoiding

Cain lists 10 statements, 5 of which are true for reward-seekers and 5 of which are true for threat-avoiders, and I found that I had three of the five reward-orientated behaviours and five out of five threat-orientated behaviours.

  • Reward-orientated
    • When I get something I want, I feel excited and energised. Yes.
    • When I want something, I usually go all out to get it. It depends, if I think I can get it, then I’ll go all out; or, if I want it enough, I’ll go all out.
    • When I see an opportunity for something, I get excited right away. It depends.
    • When good things happen to me, it affects me strongly. No.
    • I have very few fears compared to my friends. No.
  • Threat-orientated
    • Criticism or scolding hurts me quite a bit. Yes, yes, yes.
    • I feel pretty worried or upset when I think or know somebody is angry with me. Yes, yes, yes.
    • If I think something unpleasant is going to happen, I usually get pretty ‘worked up.’ Yes.
    • I feel worried when I think I have done poorly at something important. Yes.
    • I worry about making mistakes. Yes.

Make of this what you will, but I do feel a bit let down by my amygdala here, I must say.


I love it when one book I’ve read interacts with or backs up another. And I especially like this when it’s a book that I’ve found so deeply moving as Anti-Fragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In talking about the much-maligned trio of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (apparently abbreviated FUD in financial circles), Cain talks about investors whose investments would ‘pay off handsomely if dramatic but unexpected changes occurred in the market’. This is the barbell-shaped strategy that Taleb described in Anti-Fragile, and I just enjoy that it’s coming up here as well.

Clowning Around

‘At school,’ says Mike, ‘I’m a lot more interested in listening to what the teacher says and being the good student, rather than the class clown or interacting with other kids in the class. If being outgoing, shouting, or acting out in class is gonna affect the education I receive, it’s better if I go for education.’

Ah, Mike, if only it were that simple. I was a former class clown, not out of desire, but because of deeply rooted self-esteem issues that made me desperate for people’s affection. I felt that if I couldn't earn their affection, at least I could make them laugh – even if they were laughing at me and not with me, at least I had some value. It seems like a rare luxury to consider what would be best for my education when I was merely trying to find the faintest hint of self-esteem in a harsh and unforgiving world.

This dynamic still drives me to talk so much – I feel that being interesting or entertaining is the only value I have to offer, and I desperately want to feel valuable. It takes incredible strength and the luxury of self-confidence to be able to stay quiet and not feel constantly pressured to prove one’s worth over and over again.

Perhaps this is an example of what happens to an introvert when they’re put in a world where value comes from what one contributes?

Sorrow for Surviving

And it’s because of relationship-honoring that Hiroshima victims apologized to each other for surviving. “Their civility has been well documented but still stays the heart,” writes the essayist Lydia Millet. “ ‘I am sorry,’ said one of them, bowing, with the skin of his arms peeling off in strips. ‘I regret I am still alive while your baby is not.’ ‘I am sorry,’ another said earnestly, with lips swollen to the size of oranges, as he spoke to a child weeping beside her dead mother. ‘I am so sorry that I was not taken instead.’ ”

This is so beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. It seems perfectly natural to me to say something like this. To watch someone who has lost their baby and not feel that the baby should have survived instead of I – that seems perfectly natural. Perhaps Australia is different? Or maybe it's my Christian upbringing that has given me this perspective? So much of what I read in this chapter makes me wish the West were more like the East.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading.