Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
To be or not to be a Goliath? It’s an almost Shakespearian question. We all aspire to become giants, associating this concept with greatness and success.
But are we wrong to do that? Read on and browse some nuggets if you’re searching for an answer.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David, and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is ready to provide you with some wise words on this topic.
You may think that the basis of Gladwell’s book is the biblical story of David and Goliath. I also bet that at least one thought crossed your mind: is this book about choosing what you want to become: a giant or the small fellow?
MYTHS ABOUT WEAKNESS / DAVID AND GOLIATH
The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.
“David and Goliath Summary”
You’d be right on the first point. Inspired by the biblical story, Malcolm Gladwell creates the modern mindset story. It’s a story about underestimating, overestimating, focusing on the wrong or right goals and choosing our models.
I dare to tell you the conclusion: being a giant may be a great disadvantage. Being a giant makes you slow, makes you a large target. Makes you think you’re invincible. But reality will hit you at some point: you are just weak.
Many years ago in the territory of today’s Palestine, a battle occurred. This conflict reshaped the concept of warfare in history. According to some this story is just a myth, to others a real one, it is all up to you.
Young shepherd boy defeated a mighty ancient warrior using only a stone and small sling, since then, people tell this story about David and Goliath to motivate others that everyone has a chance.
Defy the odds regardless of your underdog status, become David’s miracle and victory; fight for what you deserve.
Here’s the thing:
If you don’t believe in the trustworthiness of David and Goliath story, you should at least try to comprehend its point.
We support Malcolm Gladwell view which indicates – obstacles occur along the path exists and the people should turn those disadvantages, into their advantage by changing the interpretation of the problem.
Gladwell starts with the simple explanations of what really happened that day. If you lack curiousness and fantasy, perhaps this book won’t fit you.
You should be an enthusiastic person, eager to learn, to understand, to listen and most importantly to believe as David did all those years ago.
From there, David and Goliath story analyze many new troubles like civil rights struggles, cancer researchers, political conflicts, civil wars, bankruptcy, etc.
The little fellow has, from the beginning, the great advantage of being underestimated. He’s fast, slips easily through the enemy’s net.
He’s eager to learn more and aspires to become stronger. In other words, he’s a difficult target.
Know Your Weaknesses And Use Them To Your Favor
Vivek Ranadive was an Indian immigrant in the United States who had never trained basketball teams and knew very little about the sport. Still, he accepted a challenge. Train his daughter’s female basketball team at school.
To overcome this challenge, he asked a former professional player named Roger Craig and his daughter Rometra, who had already played high school basketball, for help. But something special happened.
Vivek’s lack of knowledge about basketball gave the team a strategic advantage and allowed him to win the national high school basketball title that year.
From an outside perspective, he understood the rules of the game but did not understand why the teams were not able to defend themselves from the other teams when the ball returned to the court after a basket.
He also knew that his team was not as talented as the others and so could not compete using the traditional way of playing.
That’s why his team scored opponents in a closed way, always putting pressure, trying to prevent the other team from scoring.
This tactic is very unconventional in basketball and people who are more experienced in the sport think it’s strange.
But for Vivek’s team, strong, steady defense allowed them to hide their weaknesses. With a strong defense, it did not matter if they did not have fantastic 3 pointers or tall players.
While the hard and steady defense was at stake, they were able to steal the ball and move forward.
Many may think that the lack of ability to dribble and throw was the main weakness of the girls’ team, but in fact, that was what made the unconventional strategy possible and brought victory.
The weak team, ignored, won game after game because they innovated and left the conventional because they knew their weaknesses.
That is the same strategy that David used to beat the giant, and it worked.
That makes it clear that it is necessary to know our weaknesses and think outside the box to create an advantage in our unlikely conflicts.
Too Much Of Something Can Be A Problem…
Have you ever heard of the inverted U curve? It is a mountain-shaped curve that describes the correlation between having too much of something and not having enough.
Gladwell connects this theory to the size of classrooms in the USA.
There, colleges boast having rooms with fewer students, stating that this allows for more interactions between students and teachers.
It may even be true, but it also has many disadvantages.
When a class has fewer students, less discussion arises because there is so much diversity. On the other hand, a large group too can encourage a lot of interaction between students and impair learning.
Initially, having more than one thing is better, but when the marginal utility of that thing decreases, the effect is negative.
Reducing class size can yield positive results, but at a certain point it can eliminate diversity and cause problems. That is demonstrated by the inverted U curve.
There is an optimum point, a size in which the class is most efficient in learning. The same goes for wealth. Too much money or less have an impact on people’s happiness.
Studies prove that when you have too much money, it can be challenging to raise your children because if there is no shortage, the perceived value of things diminishes.
David and Goliath
In the United States, according to a survey, the value of $ 74,000 a year tends to be the break-even point and, if you have much lower incomes or higher than that, you tend to be less happy.
Stop Comparing Yourself To Accepted Standards
For 150 years, Paris was the center of Europe’s artistic culture. Every artist wanted to be in the Salon, the gallery that brought together the works of the greatest artists of France.
But there was a catch. To be in the Salon, an artist had to adopt the standards accepted by the gallery of what art really meant.
This norm resulted in artists works becoming standardized. Consequently, artists organized themselves and created their own gallery, where they exhibited pieces that would not meet the Salon’s standards.
These artists created Impressionism, and their pieces were acclaimed by society. If they had conformed to the Salon standards, they would never have projected themselves.
Another interesting example, student Caroline Sachs was an above average student and was looking for a university to pursue her studies.
She was in doubt between two universities, one renowned and one lesser known.
Most students chose the university that had the best reputation because they valued the curriculum and gave them a better chance of getting a good job.
The problem with this way of thinking is that if you go to the best school with the best students, it is harder to stand out and you become just another fish in the sea.
Caroline chose the most renowned university and immediately became a mediocre student, which was something new to her, who had always been among the best.
She could not handle it well, which made her drop out of college. Imagine how it would have been if she had made the opposite choice.
Would she have been a prominent student in junior college? Would she have finished college?
The act of comparing ourselves with widely accepted standards undermines our self-confidence and prevents us from realizing our full potential.
You need to find the niche where you stand out despite your weaknesses.
Play With Your Weaknesses
Do you know anyone who has dyslexia? Dyslexia is the inability to read and understand texts.
When we think of dyslexic people, we immediately feel sorry for the people affected, judging them less capable than the others.
However, a myth of the modern world is that to be successful you need to be better than your competitors in all areas. You do not have to be better at everything.
The important thing is to be better in the critical areas that lead to victory.
Lawyer David Boies was dyslexic. As a young man, he discovered that he had great difficulty with reading, and instead of giving up, he continued to try to improve his reading skills. That did not work for him.
On the other hand, he knew he had a great ability to listen.
He listened to people with gusto and recorded in memory everything he heard. That was his strength. He was special in retaining the knowledge he heard, and this allowed him to succeed.
Many people with dyslexia have the same quality and succeed by overcoming dyslexia in this way. Gary Cohn, now one of Goldman Sacks’ most renowned executives, for example, was dyslexic.
But he accepted his weakness and decided to seek opportunities in the financial market, although everyone doubted him.
He once got into a taxi along with a stockbroker, and within an hour convinced his colleague that he was very successful as a stockbroker.
The man fell into the conversation and gave him the chance to start in the stock market.
Later on, he grew on to become one of the greatest references in the stock market.
Often the things we learn in times of need, despite our weaknesses, are more powerful than the things with are our fortés.
Perseverance Leads To Sucess
Often, good things are born of bad things, because people persevere.
During World War II, it was discovered that three things could occur after a bombing: When the bomb strikes, people in that area die and the enemy is neutralized.
When the bomb misses by little, the people in the area are frightened, in shock and disbelieved about the future.
When the bomb misses completely, people celebrate and get strengthened by not being hit. In the latter case, people feel invincible and increase their confidence.
Emil Jay Freireich, in his life, lived a similar situation, in which the bomb missed by far and he became stronger.
Life for him had been difficult, his family had lost everything with the Great Depression, his father committed suicide, and his mother had an underpaying job to support the family.
Jay channeled his sorrows and frustrations into becoming a doctor. He persevered toward an unlikely future for someone who had such a difficult history.
As a doctor, he seemed a little rude and did not have much sympathy for patients and their families.
Working at the Cancer Hospital in Washington, he was known for adopting unusual and dangerous treatments.
His unconventional approach made him one of the most successful doctors in the treatment of leukemia.
For Gladwell, it is possible to break out of hellish scenarios and emerge stronger and more victorious.
Nothing To Lose, Much To Gain
In 1963, a photo during a protest of black students in Birmingham began a movement. In this photo, you can see a policeman throwing a German shepherd over a young student, to attack him. This story has an interesting origin.
Wyatt Tee Walker was a more radical activist than Martin Luther King.
Because he had always been subjugated by society, he learned to use the wisdom of the streets to get out of difficult situations. He was not a rebel by choice, but by necessity.
Walker once urged his fellow combatants to march in the city, but many people did not show up. He postponed the march and more people came to watch.
Little by little people were piling up to see whether or not they would march.
These spectators caused local newspapers to miss the protesters count and soon the march was prominent in the media, which made more and more people join.
Also, Walker put children and students on the front line to get sympathy. As the number of protesters grew, police sent police officers with dogs to the demonstration, and so the famous photo was taken.
Walker and the civil rights movement used this photo to lure sympathy to their cause.
In fact, no one accepted that putting children and students on the front lines against armed police was the right thing to do, but Walker used what he had to gain public sympathy.
Walker was successful using unconventional methods and doing what no one else was willing to do. In the fight for equal rights, they knew that they had nothing to lose, so everything that came was a profit.
They fought fearlessly, faced the status quo and always stood with an attitude based on “all or nothing.” This stance forced the American elite to reconsider civil rights and gave a large victory to the population towards a more egalitarian country.
Legitimacy Is Needed To Lead
To create authority and to be heard, one must inspire and generate authority. If a person seeks to become a leader and win a battle, one must demonstrate respect and legitimately gain people’s respect.
To gain legitimacy, one must understand the three pillars of obedience:
- People who are forced to obey an authority need to feel that they have a voice and that if they do, they will be heard;
- The law must be predictable, there must always be an expectation that the laws of tomorrow will be the same as today;
- The law must be fair, it should not distinguish people from each other;
- People disobey those they see as enemies, but they follow those who perceive them as humane and just.
Using these principles, leaders can create movements that overthrow the status quo.
The Limits Of The Inverted U Curve
In 1992, fashion student Kimber, daughter of Mike Reynolds, passed away in Los Angeles after a violent assault.
The father, sensitized by the loss, promised that he would devote his life to preventing this kind of thing from happening to others.
In less than a week, he gathered dozens of people in his garden and talked about the root cause. For them, violence arose because the penalties for those who did not comply with the law were soft. This made them create the three strikes law.
If someone was convicted a second time, he/she should have the sentence doubled for this crime.
If the crime occurred a third time, the person would be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in jail. This idea was passed and became a law, which caused crime in the city to fall by 36%.
On the other hand, controversies arose. For example, if someone commits two serious crimes, then correct their behavior but after a few years, commit a third crime, like stealing pizza, does that person deserve to be in jail for 25 years?
That is an illustration of the classic inverted U curve.
To what extent do stricter laws help improve society? The U curve should have clear boundaries, stopping at the optimal point to achieve the common good.
It illustrates that more is not always better. Some policies can be positive and generate great value for society, but care must be taken in creating this kind of rule.
New rules can reach a point where benefits stop, and the situation gets worse.
Believing To Have Power Does Not Empower One
In December 1940, France was dominated by Germany in World War II, and the Germans created a new government in the city of Vichy.
This government was led by Philippe Petain, who respected the German orders by hunting the Jews and sending them to the concentration camps.
Not all the surrounding cities followed the same rules, as the city of Le Chambon. It all began with Pastor Andre Trocme, who rebelled against everything the German state imposed.
He would tell everyone who heard his words in the service not to respect and not live according to the German rules regarding the Jews. As Petain hunted the Jews, Troche found them, giving them shelter and safety.
Petain was furious and sent a person to teach the new laws in all nearby cities. When the envoy arrived at Le Chambon, he found a city full of anger and hatred against everything he taught.
A group of students handed him a letter stating that there were Jews in town and that the government would not take them.
For years, the French population had to hide Jews and create fake documents so they would not be captured by the Nazis.
Trocme did not back down and was arrested. He would only be released if he signed a contract saying he would adopt all the rules of the German government.
He decided not to accept and continued to insubordinate himself to the government and reject its authority, risking his life and freedom.
The population of Le Chambon followed suit, not respecting Nazi authority.
Why? For one simple reason: Le Chambon was a city populated by descendants of the original Protestant population of France and people often tried to expel this group from the country.
Their ancestors clashed with the Catholic Church and were persecuted violently.
Because these people were so accustomed to violence, they were not afraid to defy the Nazis.
For them, the powerful were not so powerful, and the weak were not so weak. Being powerful is not about being big and scary.
Giants try to prove their power by attacking the weakest to hide their weakness and lack of self-confidence.
Understanding the difference between people who believe they have power and those who really have power is what really matters.
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“David and Goliath Quotes”Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness. Click To Tweet Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all. Click To Tweet Any fool can spend money. But to earn it and save it and defer gratification—then you learn to value it differently. Click To Tweet The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission. Click To Tweet What is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily. Click To Tweet
Many of the advantages that people believe that lead to success may actually end up being disadvantaged.
Too much education and wealth can ruin your chances of being successful, for example.
You need to find the optimum point, where you use a feature you possess to leverage your life to be successful.
Being underestimated allows you to exceed your expectations and develop constantly.
Also, you need to follow your path and do not seek validation of society at all. Too much to compare can hinder development. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and use them to create your niche.
No one is perfect, and you can change your destiny if you understand exactly how to use your disadvantages to your advantage.
12min tip: Did you like the microbook, David and Goliath? We have several other Malcolm Gladwell titles here at 12min. Be sure to check the microbooks “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”.
Do you want to find out how the modern mindset fits in the biblical story? Start by checking out the nuggets below, and then read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David, and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
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