Unleash the full potential of your business in the digital world

Malcolm Gladwell: The Real Reason David Beats Goliath

James Huang | 2023.05.08

If you think you know the story of David and Goliath, think again.

In his book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants," Malcolm Gladwell says most people get this famous Biblical yarn all wrong because they misunderstand who really has the upper hand. It is because of, and not despite, David's size and unorthodox choice of weapon that he is able to slay the lumbering giant. In other words, Gladwell says, most people underestimate the importance of agility and speed

The same misunderstanding happens in David vs. Goliath fights in business, which Gladwell substantiates with numerous case studies and research examples in his recently published book. Most fail to recognize the advantages an underdog brand has when it faces off against a competitor who has strength, size, and wealth. And that's exactly why nimble, upstart companies, with their new solutions to old problems, often can best Goliaths.

"David and Goliath" challenges the traditional story of the underdog and giant. The book explores the idea of disadvantages being advantageous and vice versa by examining people's stories. Successful underdogs are defined by their disagreeableness and the ability to move forward with an idea without requiring the social approval of their peers. The book also discusses the concept of "desirable difficulty" and how it can be advantageous. Once a certain level of success or wealth is reached, it can actually work against a person or company. The book emphasizes the importance of the weapons of the spirit, such as ideas, motivation, perseverance, excitement, and faith, in entrepreneurship.

Gary Cohn, former president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, is an inspiring figure who has managed to overcome the challenges of being dyslexic and succeed in a highly competitive industry. It's truly impressive, considering that he has an estimated IQ of 150, which is a testament to his brilliance. Additionally, he was fortunate enough to have a supportive family that helped him through his struggles, which undoubtedly played a vital role in his success.

However, not everyone has the same advantages. Imagine someone who isn't as intellectually gifted as Cohn and doesn't have a supportive family to turn to. On top of that, they may be struggling with other disadvantages, such as poverty or hunger. For them, their dyslexia may not be a desirable difficulty since it could amplify their struggles even further.

When it comes to the advantages of scale, it's important to note that they are not infinite. Companies need to produce a certain number of products to be efficient, but there comes a point where additional size becomes a hindrance. Beyond that point, decision-making and innovation become more complicated and less effective.

Our sense of self-worth and confidence is often derived from our perceptions of our peer group. When we are placed in a highly competitive environment, we are more likely to compare ourselves to others and judge ourselves more harshly. On the other hand, when we are in a less selective or competitive environment, we are more likely to feel good about ourselves and our abilities. Therefore, it's essential to consider the environment in which we place ourselves and the impact it can have on our sense of self.

Malcolm Gladwell: The Real Reason David Beats Goliath
Share this post
Developing AI-powered tools to automate repetitive tasks in SMEs, reducing the need for a large workforce and increasing efficiency