Glad For Gladwell

I’ve been a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan for years and had the distinct pleasure last Tuesday of getting to hear him in person for the first time, thanks to UTPB’s Shepperd Distinguished Lecturer Series (which was previously responsible for bringing the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev here to speak).

Gladwell has a real gift for unearthing, dissecting, & interpreting social concepts & emerging trends and making them digestible & entertaining for the common person. Frankly, I’m amazed that we somehow lured an author & speaker of this magnitude to our little corner of Texas—much less that the lecture was free!

I had to coax Dede to attend, but she was pleasantly surprised to discover just how engaging & thought-provoking a speaker the author is. His lecture centered around one of the topics, capitalization, that’s focused upon in his most recent book Outliers: The Story of Success. Capitalization is the ability to take advantage of peoples’ untapped potential for achievement & success. Gladwell examined several of the factors that limit success and discussed some solutions to overcome & eliminate those. Afterward, he graciously autographed each his 3 books that I had with me, including the copy of “Outliers,” which I’d just bought that evening.

Malcolm Gladwell   Autographed copy of "Outliers"
Click the above images for larger versions

Want to hear some of the author’s thoughts yourself? Check out his Human Nature lecture where he explores why we often can’t trust people’s opinions, using examples of New Coke & Herman-Miller’s Aeron chair—neither of which performed in the marketplace even remotely similar to how research suggested they would.

I also recommend you check out my Jumbo Shrimp & SUV Safety post where I cite some of Gladwell’s points on consumers’ flawed rationale behind chosing SUVs for safety.

And you’ll certainly want to watch the following TED talk where Malcolm talks about what spaghetti sauce can teach us about innovation:

Jumbo Shrimp and SUV Safety

“Jumbo shrimp.”   “Smart bomb.”   “Freezer burn.”

Oxymorons. We’re all familiar with these. Oxymorons are the bringing together of two opposites or contradictory terms. With that in mind, maybe it’s high time we added another phrase to the long list of oxmora:

“SUV safety”

Almost daily, I hear people defaulting to—and defending—the choice of a SUV when the option of buying a new car comes up. In almost every case, the primary reason listed is safety. And who can blame them? We spend an increasing amount of time behind the wheel and people want their families & children to be safe & secure on the road. The perception is that bigger is better, more steel equals stronger, and taller means superior. Add it all up, SUVs just seem like the safest choice, right?

SUV Safety SignFor most SUVs, nothing could be further from the truth…

A string of largely-ignored tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety over recent years has thoroughly documented the fact that many cars are far safer than SUVs. Yet in spite of the known hazards—such as SUVs being prone to rollovers and having weak roofs & comparably poor crash protection—consumer continue to snatch up these hulking behemoths in record numbers. People are, in effect, willfully overlooking vehicle safety concerns because of reasoning that’s known to be untrue.

I urge you to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s very compelling article Big & Bad: How the SUV Ran Over Automotive Safety for a closer look at the pyschology & rationale behind chosing SUVs for safety.

In choosing SUVs, drivers aren’t only placing themselves at greater risk. No, as I mentioned in my Risky Business post back in January, the combination of highly-touted safety innovations (4-wheel drive, ABS brakes, side-curtain airbags, etc.) and the more risk-tolerant attitudes & driving habits of SUV-owners, makes them a greater threat to other drivers as well. Little if any thought seems to go into the issue of SUVs being much more harmful to the other vehicle in a collision but in fact, the more SUVs bought in the interest of safety, the less safe the roads actually are. Popular assumption is that because of the larger size, stiffer frame, and heavier weight of SUVs, they’ll naturally be safer but the taller stance poses a considerably greater rollover risk, the stiffer frame is very inefficient at dissipating collision forces, and the added mass makes for far less break responsiveness & maneuverability.

Be sure to read Physics Today’s very interesting Vehicle Design and the Physics of Safety article for more insight on the impact (pun intended!) of SUVs & pickups on American roadways.

This is all worth considering before plunking down your hard-earned cash on your next vehicle… Will your next ride still be a SUV?