There is always another side to every story and author Malcolm Gladwell seems to have a penchant for taking long-standing notions and turning them upside down to infuse a new perception into the same story. In his latest book David and Goliath, Gladwell has established that underdogs often win by playing to the weakness of their opponents as much as they win by playing to their own strengths.
We all know the biblical story of David versus Goliath where David, a shepherd, defeated Goliath, a giant warrior, using a sling. Gladwell infuses a sense of pragmatism by highlighting how Goliath’s size impaired his movement and his sight and made him a sitting duck when it came to competing with slingers. When David challenged Goliath for a single combat without a sword, Goliath became vulnerable. Like Gladwell explains, Goliath had as much a chance against David as a man with a sword would have had against someone with a .45 automatic colt pistol.
The book is a refreshing take on how we decipher situations based on past experiences. It impresses upon us the lesson that even the strongest among us can be vulnerable from a different perspective. Very often, something that appears to be unmountable can easily tumble down if the rules are in favour of flexibility and efficiency. Having witnessed companies create their own space despite competition from behemoths, one can’t help but admire the logic the book puts forward.
Gladwell also draws parallels from various timelines. The book is full of anecdotes, which makes it a good read. An example that caught my attention was billionaire Vivek Randive’s full-court press strategy, which he used to coach his daughter’s basketball team, and the sections pointing out how low students-teacher ratios lead to an unimaginative environment in classrooms.
In addition, it contains anecdotes of TE Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) leading his ragtag army against the mighty Turks in Medina by attacking them from a different side and the innovative spirit of IKEA, whose founder, Ingvar Kemprad, established a cost-efficient business model when faced with a boycott. Snippets like these make it interesting to breeze through the book.
Although some of us may not agree with Gladwell’s pop psychology, his arguments about how dyslexic people are more successful because of their condition and his logic regarding Le Chambon, a French village that supposedly defied the Nazis, seem farfetched and lack relevance to the central premise of the book. However, the one thing that I admire about the book is the perception that every underdog is actually not one and that the same holds true for those we perceive as giants. The trick is, therefore, to look at everything from a holistic perspective. Now, if only Gladwell had stuck to this basic premise. Nonetheless, his latest is a recommended read.