Weekend reading—The Millionaire Mind

Who wants to be a millionaire? <I>The Millionaire Mind</I>, by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., outlines the characteristics of America's latest breed&#151;the millionaire entrepreneur. Read this review and find out if you fit the profile.

You've been staring at your monitor too long. Relax and curl up with a book unrelated to IT, end users, or networks. Weekend Reading has your review.

By Thomas J. StanleyAndrews McMeel Publishing, 2000406 pages, hardcoverISBN: 0740703579Price: $17.45 at
Who wants to be a millionaire?
After reading The Millionaire Mind, by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D., you'll give up on Regis Philbin, game shows, luck, and lotteries on your path to riches. It turns out the majority of millionaires in the United States got to be millionaires through grit and hard work, darn it.

The Millionaire Mind contains no magic formula to wealth. Instead, it systematically sets about dashing popular notions about what it is to be a millionaire in America. It turns out that the typical millionaire is not a jet-setting big spender. Instead, he or she lives modestly in a quiet neighborhood, cuts coupons, drives a sensible car, and usually has shoes resoled instead of buying new ones.

Author Stanley followed up his 1996 bestseller, The Millionaire Next Door, by sending questionnaires to upper-class neighborhoods. More than 700 millionaires took the time to respond to Stanley's 277 questions. The result is The Millionaire Mind, in which Stanley analyzes, extracts, and condenses the responses, letting successful people tell details of their successes in paragraphs here and there.

It's a fascinating book full of surprises.

Academic success = wealth. Not!
The biggest surprise for me was finding out the role that education played in most of these people's lives. Isn't it logical to think that high grades, top SAT scores, and a diploma from a prestigious university are what predict a life of luxury? But that's not the way it works out—unless you’re a very highly paid attorney or physician, a minority in Stanley's sample.

Most of Stanley's millionaires are entrepreneurs who report having had less-than-stellar success in school. Most were hardworking B and C students, some of whom were told they didn't quite have the right stuff to continue paths of higher learning. In third grade, one young student was even placed in the "dumb row" by "Sister Eileen, a.k.a. 'The Punisher'”—but in later life got his Ph.D., started three businesses, and became a multimillionaire.

Many anecdotes follow the same script: average but diligent student proves his critics wrong and becomes a success in the real world. One fellow, who was a poor student, gloats about the former "stellar students" who make their daily wage toiling in his employ.

The right stuff
The problem with grades and standardized tests, Stanley says, is that they measure only one kind of intelligence, analytical. Success in the business world turns out to require a combination of intelligence, he says: analytical, creative, and social intelligence (people skills). But the emphasis belongs on people skills. Knowing how to manage, lead, and inspire people appears to be crucial in getting a business off the ground.

Other factors for success that Stanley distilled from his questionnaires include discipline, integrity, courage to take risks, a knack for ignoring criticism, and the ability to spot opportunity or an unfilled niche. Other characteristics of the millionaire lifestyle include a supportive spouse, a strong family orientation, living beneath one's means, a healthy avoidance of trendy consumer products, and an extreme avoidance of debt. All these factors and characteristics are repeated throughout the book, in tabular and anecdotal form.

In fact, The Millionaire Mind is rather repetitive. After reading just 20 or so pages you come to realize Stanley is making the same points over and over. But that's okay—they're important points. I felt I gained valuable life lessons from it, but the best possible application might be to put the book in the hands of a young person.

A book for young people, too
For an average student feeling depressed about SAT scores or college entrance exams, it could be a bright light of encouragement to show that there's more than one road to success. For the A+ student, it will show that achieving high grades doesn't automatically bestow on one a life of luxury.

Another important lesson for young people (and older people who should know better) involves the baggage of debt and rampant consumerism. Stanley makes a distinction between the appearance of wealth and true wealth, which he paints in Goofus-and-Gallant-style scenarios.

People with "income statement" wealth, even though they may live in million-dollar homes and earn a phenomenal paycheck, have very little net worth—they're mortgaged to their eyeballs. People with "balance sheet" wealth, those he's profiling in the book, carry very little debt and are better able to enjoy their success.

Hmmm…guess I’d better pay off those credit cards.

Lauren Willoughby is a Web editor at The Courier-Journal newspaper in Louisville, KY, where she also writes the weekly "Technophobe" column. At night, she turns into an online auction junkie. When she's not spotting deals on refurbished 486s, she's reading a science fiction novel.

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