CHRISTOFF OOSTHUYSEN reviews Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants’, published by Allen Lane (2013).
You often hear stories of how a small guy overcame the odds to outdo a mighty giant.
This, Malcolm Galdwell explains in his just published book “David and Goliath” through real-life examples ranging from David in the Bible, to Martin Luther King, to a leukemia treatment specialist, to the French Huguenots and to a family who lost a child through murder.
Gladwell says we should not be surprised that, in so many instances it is the perceived underdog that comes out on top.
He offers compelling explanations and theories on why bigger is not always better. The best part about the book is that he is not preaching these theories, but rather telling us stories where these theories shine through. As a result, this book maintains an easy reading style, which leads you along understanding Gladwell’s insights at hand of real-life examples.
Lets look at what Gladwell calls the “theory of desirable difficulty”, which refers to situations that may be seen as a setback but which in fact becomes an advantage. This refers to instances where people are put at a disadvantage earlier in their lives, which later provide them with the ability to go from underdog to over-achiever.
One example he mentions is that of the occurrence of dyslexia in entrepreneurs: a recent study puts the prevalence of dyslexia under successful entrepreneurs as high as one third. Think of well-known examples such as Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and John Chambers.
They are at a disadvantage when it comes to reading, which early in their lives pushed them to find alternative ways of keeping up. It is this situation, forced upon them, which prepared them for success when the exact strategies they were forced to develop to overcome the disadvantage, allowed them to later outperform others.
In a very concrete way, the disadvantage of dyslexia became an advantage, which led one of the interviewed characters to asking: “You wouldn’t wish dyslexia on your child. Or would you?” This, says Gladwell, illustrates that there are in fact some “desirable difficulties”, that lead people to unexpected achievements. But let me immediately note that this is not a book on the potential for smaller business to get out on top. It is a book about the general principles of why bigger is not always better. Small business owners can easily apply these lessons to their own situations to increase their chance of success.