This week I started reading “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell. He doesn’t disappoint. In his usual storytelling fashion, he teaches a few lessons on the theme of “underdog power”. He deconstructs some common misunderstandings of the battle between the “Davids” and “Goliaths” of today.
Here are some key points I found from a summary online… (Ignition Blog) (My thoughts come right after it)
Sometimes what we think is an advantage becomes a disadvantage – and vice versa (where a weakness becomes a strength as we learn to compensate against it). Trying to play the Giant’s game rarely is successful. To win against the Giants, the Davids need to adopt different strategies. But most of the time underdogs don’t fight like Davids as they blindly accept the rules of the game as defined by the dominant players.
Adopt a different strategy to win – We are attracted to stories of lopsided conflicts – where the underdog battles through and wins against the odds. But in real life, we often mis-read the odds, assuming they are heavily stacked against them. But in reality, the same qualities that appear to give the ‘Giants’ strength are often their sources of weakness.
You rarely win against the Giants by playing to their rules – yet many ‘Davids’ assume the battle need to be played on their terms without even questioning it. Furthermore, to win as an underdog you need belief that you can win – and this often comes from having a higher purpose.
How a potential weakness can gives us strength – We tend to gravitate towards those areas we are naturally gifted in. But conversely the same happens in areas of major disadvantage. We have to develop skills in other areas to ameliorate our disadvantages (known as ‘Compensation learning’).
For many people being dyslexic can hamper their potential. It not only affects academic achievements but can also sap their self esteem and confidence. But for some a disadvantage can be the making of them (termed ‘desirable difficulties’ by Bjork and Bjork). An extraordinary high number of entrepreneurs (c1/3rd) are dyslexic (e.g. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, Craig McCaw etc) – they succeeded in part because of their disadvantage.
Another common theme I discovered among successful outliers is the loss of a parent at a young age. While this certainly isn’t preferable, there are often great advantages that come with the radical shift this causes in the life of the young child.
The notion that disadvantages have their own advantages is comforting. It reminds me that each of us has unique abilities or disabilities for a very good reason. It was also enlightening for me to realize that “advantaged” people have unique disadvantages that come with their privilege. An example that Malcolm gives is about affluent families struggling to pass on work ethic, gratitude, and other virtues to their kids. He also talks about the disadvantages that students at ivy league schools like Harvard have because they are surrounded by so many bright people. (It can lead to disappointment with one’s performance in comparison to others.)
While living in Brazil, I could see some of the advantages of the “disadvantaged” people around me. (Simpler life, patience, joy in the simple things) And living there made it easier to see what disadvantages US citizens have because we are so “advantaged”. (Lost in the commotion of “things”, information, entertainment, and news)
Maybe instead of thinking in terms of advantages and disadvantages about life, we should just think in terms of “flavor” or “texture”. Our situations each have a different “flavor” or “texture”. As we go through life we discover others’ flavors and textures, and we delight in that discovery because it adds to the fullness and vibrance of life!
You may be tasting some bitter flavors from time to time–or maybe even the majority of the time–but you’ll be able to taste some amazing flavors by being where you are. You’ll taste some flavors that no one else will, and your palate will increase its function, allowing you to influence others in ways no one else could.