Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Little, Brown and Company, 2013).

Here’s some advice a mentor gave me early in my career: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I cannot count the number of times, and in how many different contexts, perceived superiority has masked vulnerabilities.

I thought about this as I read Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent work, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsI am a fan of Gladwell’s work, including this book, but this one has not been as well-received as his earlier efforts.  This might be because his previous books explored concepts that were truly counter-intuitive, but this one really covers something that everyone, if they would only stop and think, already knows to be true—how we often misconstrue what is an advantage or a disadvantage. 

Gladwell introduces the concept with the biblical story of David and Goliath (not to be confused with Davey and Goliath, which those of us of a certain age will remember as regular Saturday programming on WTCN). Most of us learned that the takeaway from this episode was that it was something of a miracle that this shepherd boy could defeat his monstrous opponent. It turns out that David, armed with superior weaponry and unencumbered by heavy armor, held the advantage in the fight. “Goliath had as much chance against David…as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol.”

Indeed, it is quite entertaining to see how often, in a variety of circumstances, what are perceived as major disadvantages turn out to be, as one of Gladwell’s reviewers writes, “the keys to triumph.” But this is something I suspect any successful entrepreneur already knows only too well.

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