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Lectures for a New Year: Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of iconic books including Blink and The Tipping Point. He has a formula for most of his work: find a core assumption about the world that everyone assumes is correct, then prove that the opposite is actually correct. (For example, in Blink one assumption was that rigorous, detailed study of something like a work of art would lead to the best determination of whether it was a forgery; but it turns out that the best forgery detectors in the world actually operate on gut instinct that happens in a flash...or do they? You see how this works.) This Gladwell Inversion makes for really interesting reading (I thought Blink was terrific), and when he tells anecdotes, it's riveting stuff -- the man is a veritable Teachable Moment Machine, full of stories that lead to lessons. To wrap up our week of TED Talks, here's my favorite Gladwell TED presentation.

In this talk from 2004, Gladwell talks about food. Yeah. Food. And it's frickin' amazing. Here is a 17-minute lecture crammed full of stories about the development of various foods (primarily spaghetti sauces, coffees, and mustards) and what that process of food design tells us about ourselves, our diversity as people, and what actually makes us happy. It's all about the work of Howard Moskowitz, a Psychophysicist who worked on tons of important mass-market foods.

Topics: Howard Moskowitz, looking for the perfect Diet Pepsi(s), zesty pickles, the relative merits of Ragu and Prego, a Dead Tomato's Society, the three classes of spaghetti sauces Americans like, the super-diversity of modern sauce, "the mind knows not what the tongue wants," Grey Poupon as an aspirational mustard, and how coffee clusters can make us happier.

For: everyone. Especially people who eat food.

Further Reading

This one's easy: Gladwell published an essay on this topic called The Ketchup Conundrum and it's online for free (as are lots of his articles -- his website is basically its own Long Reads treasure trove). And of course, there's the Gladwell Trifecta: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, and Outliers: The Story of Success. If you're really into Gladwell, check out Malcolm Gladwell: Collected.

Transcript

TED provides an interactive transcript as well as subtitles, downloads with subtitles, and so on.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we'll check it out!

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5 Subtle Cues That Can Tell You About Your Date's Financial Personality
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Being financially compatible with your partner is important, especially as a relationship grows. Fortunately, there are ways you can learn about your partner’s financial personality in a relationship’s early stages without seeing their bank statement or sitting them down for “the money talk.”

Are they a spender or a saver? Are they cautious with money? These habits can be learned through basic observations or casual questions that don’t feel intrusive. Here are some subtle things that can tell you about your date’s financial personality.

1. HOW THEY ANSWER BASIC MONEY QUESTIONS.

Casual conversations about finance-related topics can be very revealing. Does your date know if their employer matches their 401(k) plan contributions? Do you find their answers to any financial questions a bit vague—even the straightforward ones like “What are the rewards like on your credit card?” This could mean that your partner is a little fuzzy on some of the details of their financial situation.

As your connection grows, money talks are only natural. If your date expresses uncertainty about their monthly budget, it may be an indicator that they are still working on the best way to manage their finances or don’t keep close tabs on their spending habits.

2. WHAT THEY’RE WATCHING AND READING.

If you notice your partner is always watching business news channels, thumbing through newspapers, or checking share prices on their phone, they are clearly keeping abreast of what’s going on in the financial world. Ideally, this would lead to a well-informed financial personality that gives way to smart investments and overall monetary responsibility.

If you see that your date has an interest in national and global finances, ask them questions about what they’ve learned. The answers will tell you what type of financial mindset to expect from you partner moving forward. You might also learn something new about the world of finance and business!

3. WHERE THEY GET THEIR FOOD.

You may be able to learn a lot about someone’s financial personality just by asking what they usually do for dinner. If your date dines out a lot, it could be an indication that they are willing to spend money on experiences. On the other hand, if they’re eating most of their meals at home or prepping meals for the entire week to cut their food budget, they might be more of a saver.

4. WHETHER THEY’RE VOICING MONEY CONCERNS.

Money is a source of stress for most people, so it’s important to observe if financial anxiety plays a prominent role in your date’s day-to-day life. There are a number of common financial worries we all share—rising insurance rates, unexpected car repairs, rent increases—but there are also more specific and individualized concerns. Listen to how your date talks about money and pick up on whether their stress is grounded in worries we all have or if they have a more specific reason for concern.

In both instances, it’s important to be supportive and helpful where you can. If your partner is feeling nervous about money, they’ll likely be much more cautious about what they’re spending, which can be a good thing. But it can also stop them from making necessary purchases or looking into investments that might actually benefit them in the future. As a partner, you can help out by minimizing their expenses for things like nights out and gifts in favor of less expensive outings or homemade gifts to leave more of their budget available for necessities.

5. HOW THEY HANDLE THE BILL.

Does your date actually look at how much they’re spending before handing their credit card to the waiter or bartender at the end of the night? It’s a subtle sign, but someone who looks over a bill is likely much more observant about what they spend than someone who just blindly hands cards or cash over once they get the tab.

Knowing what you spend every month—even on smaller purchases like drinks or dinner—is key when you’re staying on a budget. It’s that awareness that allows people to adjust their monthly budget and calculate what their new balance will be once the waiter hands over the check. Someone who knows exactly what they’re spending on the small purchases is probably keeping a close eye on the bigger picture as well.

REMEMBER THERE’S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR TALKING.

While these subtle cues can be helpful signposts when you’re trying to get an idea of your date’s financial personality, none are perfect indicators that will be accurate every time. Our financial personalities are rarely cut and dry—most of us probably display some behaviors that would paint us as savers while also showing habits that exclaim “spender!” By relying too heavily on any one indicator, we might not get an accurate impression of our date.

Instead, as you get to know a new partner, the best way to learn about their financial personality is by having a straightforward and honest talk with them. You’ll learn more by listening and asking questions than you ever could by observing small behaviors.

Whatever your financial personality is, it pays to keep an eye on your credit score. Discover offers a Free Credit Scorecard, and checking it won't impact your score. It's totally free, even if you aren't a Discover customer. Check yours in seconds. Terms apply. Visit Discover to learn more.

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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