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Young Money: Digging into Gladwell

blog by Caitlin Campbell McNulty  • 

A few months ago, accomplished author and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell came to the University at Buffalo as part of the Distinguished Speaker Series.

Leading up to his talk, a lot of the publications on campus highlighted his bio, life story and most of all, his series of books.

I was unable to attend his speech, but I was definitely intrigued by the subjects he has covered in his various works. While I haven’t gotten through them all, I have tackled most by reading “Blink,” “Outliers,” and “David & Goliath.”

As part of my ongoing (okay, this is just part II) series of [professional] book reviews, I’ve pulled out themes in each book that really resonated with me. Hopefully this will gave you a taste of the content and help you to determine if they are a worthwhile read in your “spare” time.

Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking

***A good chunk of Blink was spent discussing one researcher’s marriage study. The gist of the study’s results was that, by viewing the mannerisms of a couple as they discuss mundane topics, researchers can tell if a marriage will last or not.

As I read more about the study and the couples who participated, it really made me think about my own marriage. It’s a good reflection point for any relationship – not just a romantic one.

***Another subject of the book that really caught my interest was research done on facial expressions.

According to the information in the book, “we cannot control our split-second facial expressions upon feeling something, yet they offer a true look into our feelings at the moment.

Some are often hard to read or even see, but they are there for those who know what to look for.”

Good lord am I guilty of letting my facial expressions get the best of me. I have a very expressive face and at times can’t school my features fast enough! This is definitely not ideal in professional settings.

While the book made me feel as though I’m not alone, it also reminded me that this is something I need to work on, and pay attention to, in future situations.

Outliers: The Story of Success

***Nurture, not nature, is what really impacts an individual’s ability to succeed in the world.

According to Gladwell, middle class or wealthy families nurture an inquisitive nature in their children and plant the ability to question authority, while lower income families are uncomfortable with authority and dismiss a bright child’s inquisitiveness more readily.

Holy crow did this strike a nerve with me. If I think back to my own childhood, my parents always encouraged me to participate in, and have my own, discussions on topics I was curious or passionate about.

This is definitely something I will want to instill in my child no matter my economic status.

***People want you to think success is gained by hard work and dedication, but it’s also due to luck, outside factors and often, the date, time, year or month you were born.

Well doesn’t this just fly in the face of everything you thought you knew? People love a good rags-to-riches story, but no one wants to hear that you got “lucky” getting there.

We all feel more comfortable thinking that it’s done through hard, back-breaking work. But what if it’s not? I’m not sure I entirely buy into his theory, but it’s definitely something to ponder.

David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

[Writer’s Note: “David & Goliath” is my favorite of the three books I read. I really enjoyed the stories Gladwell told to illustrate his points and found that the theories explained within really made sense to me. While I didn’t read this one as quickly as “Lean In,” I did cover almost half the book on flights to and from JFK Airport.]

***It is hard to be a good parent if you have too little money, but it is not always true that the more money you have the better parent you can be.

According to Gladwell, “Money makes parenting easier until a certain point, when it stops making much of a difference. More money stops making people happier at a family income of around $75,000 a year. After that, what economists call ‘diminishing marginal returns’ sets in.”

We all aim to live the ‘American Dream,’ but when does that dream stop becoming so dream-like? Apparently around $75,000 a year.

I’m sure many young professionals share the same sentiment I do – if I can just make a thousand, or five thousand more dollars, it will make all the difference in my quality of life.

It’s comforting to know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel when we’ll stop feeling pressure to make more, do more, and be more.

***The big fish-little pond option might be scorned by some on the outside, but small ponds are welcoming places for those on the inside. Small ponds have all of the support that comes from community and friendship, and they are places where innovation and individuality are not frowned upon.

I’ve spent a lot of my career as a big fish in a little pond. There’s a lot to be said for having the opportunity to begin your professional life in an environment that gives you the opportunity to make big decisions, sometimes fall flat on your face, but learn a whole heck of a lot while doing it.

***The theory of relative deprivation by Samuel Stouffer: Stouffer’s point is that we form our impressions not globally, by placing ourselves in the broadest possible context, but locally – by comparing ourselves to people in the same boat as ourselves. Our sense of how deprived we are is relative.

To me, this says there is such a thing as “keeping up with the Joneses.”

In the professional sense, I definitely find myself paying attention to what my peers are doing in their careers and comparing my community involvement to theirs. It’s not that I’m unhappy with my accomplishments or where I am at in my life and career, but I have this inexplicable need to not be left behind. To me, the theory of relative deprivation explains this feeling perfectly.

So there you have it, my main points of interest from three of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Have you read any of his works? If so, what’s your favorite book(s) and more importantly, favorite lessons learned?

[Editor’s note: I was able to attend Gladwell’s Distinguished Speakers Series talk, and I’ve found his ability to articulate stories through both speech and writing to be magnificent. Gladwell is humble, thoughtful and rather unassuming, but he delivers a clear message with telling anecdotes and carefully-crafted language. To me, he’s unquestionably one of the brightest men of his generation.]

(Header image is courtesy of Flickr / ssoosay)

TAGGED: book reviews, caitlin campbell mcnulty, distinguished speaker series, malcolm gladwell, young money

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