David and Goliath is a book on the disadvantages of advantages and how underdogs leverage their handicaps to overcome more powerful opponents.
- Always think how to turn your disadvantage into an advantage
- Don’t compare yourself to the brightest: focus on your uniqueness
- Sometimes advantages can “U-turn” and, above a certain threshold, weaken us
Don’t Compare to The Brightest
Malcolm Gladwell says we usually compare ourselves to the very brightest out there. But it’s a mistake because, in comparison, we suffer relative deprivation, which leads us to lose confidence and self esteem.
The author says that’s one of the reasons why top tier schools have a higher drop out rate: the students there compare themselves with the best of the best.
The alternative? Stop comparing yourself and follow your own path and uniqueness.
Focus on Uniqueness
Gladwell says that most of the times when the underdogs beat the most powerful opponent, they didn’t go head to head in direct opposition. Instead, they fought with unconventional tactics leveraging their strengths.
Read 33 Strategies of Warfare for more.
The Curse of Wealth
Gladwell says that children from very wealthy families can struggle more than poorer ones. Why? Because they don’t learn the importance of hard work and fending for themselves.
This is also a topic explored in The Millionaire Mind and what Daymond refers to when he says that being broke can be an advantage (The Power of Broke).
The Power of Disabilities
Malcolm Gladwell says that people with learning difficulties sometimes end up being much more successful than “normal” people. Why so? They work around their issue by developing strengths in other areas that normal people never took the time to explore.
For example, David Boies, one of the most successful lawyers in the US, is dyslexic. And since reading was difficult for him, he developed an uncanny ability to read witnesses and spot possible lies.
Real Life Applications
Be Prepared to Unsettle
Gladwell says that entrepreneurs are much more disagreeable than the average, and that leaders took social risks by not compromising their beliefs.
The message: to reap big success, sometimes you have to be ready to piss off someone.
Watch out for too much mollycoddle in your life: it can take your hedge off. Keep pushing yourself instead.
David and Goliath Revisit is Bogus
I don’t buy the way Gladwell revisits the David and Goliath history by flipping the script. He says Goliath was probably affected by giantism, was slow and nearly blind.
David was a more effective fighter because of his slingshot experience. Slingers, he says, were “more importantly” part of the artillery back in the days and “time and time again” the decisive factor against infantry.
Hence, David was the one with the real advantage there.
The story makes no sense to me. Why would the Philistines send an ineffective fighter? And the inevitability of David’s win? Please! Snipers miss all the time today with perfectly engineered rifles with a scope. Let alone if David couldn’t miss with a slingshot!
Gladwell also overplays the power of slingers in history warfare: if infantry and not slingers were the numerically predominant fighting force, there was a good reason for it.
You can hear this story in his TED Talk.
TL;DR: the re-visitation of Goliath being the underdog rests on shaky ground at best.
David and Goliath talks about underdogs, entrepreneurs, people facing big obstacles and the effect of a harsh punishment system. I find the link among all these topics tenuous.
Great Insight on Entrepreneurs Psychology
I loved the analysis Gladwell makes of entrepreneurs and leaders from a social perspective. Entrepreneurs for example are very high on disagreeableness. And successful leaders took big social gambles by not compromising their beliefs to avoid making waves.
David and Goliath, in a nutshell, says that advantages are not always advantages and disadvantages can instead become our strengths.
I didn’t find the double edge of the advantages particularly inspiring, but I like the message around using our weaknesses as our strengths (something I talk about in Overcoming Limiting Beliefs).
From a mindset perspective of turning obstacle into advantages, I preferred The Obstacle is The Way.
But overall, David and Goliath has lots of great insight, some of which also very inspirational.
And of course, Gladwell knows how to write. All his books have been NYT best sellers, including Outliers, and The Tipping Point and my favorite: Blink.