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Saturday, July 4, 2009

David versus Goliath or Underdogs Have a Chance

What type of person are you when it comes to choosing whom to support in one-to-one contests in sport or elsewhere? Whom do you support: the stronger team or person or the underdog? Because of some strange psychological phenomenon I always support the underdog. It might be because I am secretly thrilled by the drama following the defeat of the stronger or because life would be too boring if the stronger one always won or because of trusting the biblical 'the last will be first' (Mathew 20:16). It might be also because there is justice in the defeat of those who think themselves invincible.

Recently I came upon a very inspiring article in the New Yorker by an author called Malcolm Gladwell. For those who don't know him, Gladwell is a very interesting and intelligent author who published several best-selling books: The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers (previews available on his website). I only read the Tipping Point (recommended by my dear friend Todd Schenk) but I also read many interesting articles by Gladwell in the New Yorker.

The point of this article is that actually underdogs (who understand and accept that they are underdogs for objective reasons) may adopt strategies and optimise their chances of cutting Goliath's head, i.e. winning.

Like that....

David against Goliath, Rubens

What Davids have to do - according to Gladwell - is to choose an unconventional strategy. This means that Goliaths should simply be attacked where their weakest points are or where they do not expect an attack. In the biblical story David does not go for the conventional sword and shield battle of the time but chooses a sling and stones strategy, i.e. agility, speed and lightness. And...apparently that's what Goliath is missing. He is strong but heavy and slow.

I just read that besides the Bible the David versus Goliath story is also mentioned in the Quran. In my opinion it simply means that an unequal battle, in all senses, is such a common pattern in life that three major religions (also Judaism) have highlighted it in their holy texts.

And indeed, don't we often find ourselves in one of the two roles? How do we act then?

It seems that research has shown that almost 30% of the recorded war battles in history are won by underdogs, i.e. armies that are smaller or less armed. That's a huge percentage and it seems that underdogs have higher chance of winning than we might think. For example the winning armies simply chose the unconventional strategy, use the surprise factor or have higher speed.

For me this means that no battle or fair cause we engage in is lost in advance no matter how hopeless the situation is. However, it also means that our Goliath heads may roll in the dust one of these days if we get full of our superiority in a certain field. Because.....the first will be last and the last will be first.


julochka said...

i read blink and i'm in the middle of the tipping point and outliers is waiting for me on the nightstand...i do like gladwell, and discovered him thru this interview he did with charlie rose

very good stuff.

Polly said...

I remember reading this article in The New Yorker and it inspired me to get Outliers. It's the next book on my reading list, I can't wait. The article really was fascinating.

pollicino said...

I have visited your interesting blog.Do You want visit the my blogs for an exchange visit?Grazie.

I_am_Tulsa said...

I haven't read anything by Gladwell although I used to sell his books (and they sold really well) when I worked in a bookstore... The reason for this is because I saw an interview of him once...and nothing "clicked" for me...maybe I should read this article...seems interesting.

With that said, I think I usually cheer on the "underdog" types...but when it comes to conflicts, wars and battles I don't think there are any winners...never say never, but I still think "never" on this one.

thank you again for a post that makes me think!

Ruslan said...

Julochka, yes he has very interesting ideas.

Polly, have a good reading. Could you recommend some good book for the holiday?

Pollicino, thanks but I don't read Italian, at least not enough :-)

Tulsa, I think you will live on happily even without Gladwell...