Macolm Gladwell: Goliaths beware?

Flick/cc/craigdamlo

Malcolm Gladwell’s next book will be  David and Goliath (2013, Little Brown).

I haven’t read the book yet, but he wrote a related article in the New Yorker entitled “How David Beats Goliath” detailing that Davids (underdogs) win a surprising 1/3 of the time against much stronger Goliaths.  The article highlighted a poorly-trained California girls’ basketball team who reached the state finals through unconventional  defense like the press. [The article generated some controversy with Gladwell responding to some concerns about Rick Pitino.] Gladwell might have, but didn’t discuss Grinnell Basketball’s innovative strategy to take on better teams of running all out, “run and gun” and substituting in new players every 5 minutes so the team was always fresh.

In an interview with New Yorker’s, Nicholas Thompson in Canada in October 2012, he noted that “Traits that we consider to be disadvantages aren’t disadvantages at all. … As a society, we depend on damaged people far more than we realize. … They’re capable of things the rest of us can’t do [because] they look at things in different ways.”

One key factor in underdog’s success (in business or in life) is employing disruptive strategies that exploit their stronger opponent’s weaknesses. They often move quickly, lay low, channel the opponent’s energy against him or herself, or figure out dimensions along which their Goliath opponent will be slow to change.   [Looks like it might help reprise some of the theories of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.]

He focuses on events like Americans and Soviets losing to Afghanistan. the Americans losing to the Viet Cong, or Steve Jobs vaulting out of nowhere and overtaking wealthy Xerox.  Or Cezanne, who originally was a “failed painter” but comes from behind.  His book relates a bit to Randy Pausch’s advice that barriers are not put up to keep people from their goals but to separate out those who really want something from those who don’t.  [He might also have added to his list the success of the American minutemen in defeating the much better trained and funded British troops through a combination of knowing the terrain, early guerrilla warfare [hiding behind trees and rocks], wearing camouflage rather than bright red uniforms, etc.]

His mantra is embodied in the bible:

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. [Ecclesiastes 9:11]

He believes that Americans shouldn’t focus on getting into the best colleges.  [More on that when books comes out, although maybe he’s generalizing from his rise to stardom from a degree from University of Toronto’s Trinity College…]

I haven’t read the book yet, but his book flies in the face of our research that suggests that over the last several decades, there is far less equality of opportunity in America than earlier.   These low-income “underdogs” seem to be far less likely to break out of  the low-education of the families they are born into than Gladwell’s optimistic statistics seem to assert.  Look forward to reading the book…

Here’s an interview of Gladwell with CBC’s Terry MacLeod.

Click here for interview with New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson on Underdogs.

For more on Outliers, his last book, click here.

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