David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cracking into a fresh book by Malcolm Gladwell is like opening a favorite bottle of wine. It's something I save for a special occasion: a Friday night, maybe, or a Sunday afternoon when I have time to myself and no one will disturb me. Arrange my chair. Fix my snack and my drink. Settle in. This is going to be fun.
Gladwell does not disappoint with David and Goliath. He is a master at storytelling and devoted to making social scientific research come alive in a way that both informs and entertains. His basic premise for this one is first that lopsided conflicts produce greatness and beauty as underdogs overcome long odds, and second that most of us fail to accurately grasp the true significance and value in these events. OK, Malcolm, I'm listening.
See, David beat Goliath because he didn't fight according to social norms. He did the unexpected, caught the giant off guard, took advantage of his weakness (poor eyesight), and prevailed. The story has come down to us as evidence of God's favor on the righteous, but Gladwell suggests we see it in a more empowering manner: David and Goliath were not in the same fight. David didn't buy in to the standard assumptions about what it would take to beat a large and experienced warrior. David thought outside the box and found an Achilles heal. Says Gladwell, "The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem."
There are a number of ways that ordinary people can "pull a David."
--Be so ignorant of what is expected that you have no choice but to invent something completely different. (A basketball coach who knows nothing of basketball.)
--Put ourselves in a big and diverse pool of colleagues so as to feel more confident in one's own abilities than we might feel in a smaller, more elite universe. (Big Fish, Little Pond.)
--Be disagreeable in support of a radical new idea. Get under other people's skin and get their attention.
--Develop skill as a work around to a disability. (Being dyslexic and struggling to read requires one to think more deeply and therefore build real analytical skills.)
--Come through a terrifying situation and learn that it wasn't so bad after all. The fear of the thing we fear is often worse than the actual thing.
--Go all out when there is nothing left to lose.
--When suffering discrimination, pay attention to how an oppressor group functions, what they care about, and how they operate. Know thy enemy. (They haven't bothered to pay attention to you.)
--Use power according to the Principle of Legitimacy, giving voice to those who must obey, and exercising authority consistently and fairly.
--Forgive those who trespass against us (because retribution and harsh penalties backfire every time.)
What Gladwell wants his readers to do is to challenge our assumptions about what creates advantage or disadvantage, and to consider a new approach. Rethink the paradigm. Don't fight Goliath on Goliath's terms. Invent your own. That's where personal power and success lie.
Good one, Malcolm. Much appreciated. Now, how much longer until the next one?
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