Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants


David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book David and Goliath highlights that power is not always what it might seem and how the ability of the underdog to succeed should not be overlooked.

In typical Gladwell style, David and Goliath is peppered with stories; from unlikely winning basketball teams, to the conflict in Northern Ireland, to the advantages of dyslexia to Londoners spirit during the Blitz. All the stories illustrate how the underdog wins against the odds.

In the biblical story of David and Goliath, the giant Goliath was the greatest warrior of the Philistines. At six-foot nine inches tall, wearing full body armour, a bronze helmet and bronze plates covering his feet and brandishing a javelin, a spear and sword he was a fearful sight. No Israelites were brave enough to take on Goliath. Apart from David, a small shepherd boy.

David didn’t wear any protective armour because it would be too heavy to walk in. All he carried were five smooth stones and a sling in a shoulder bag.  David fired his first stone from his sling before he was even anywhere near Goliath. This first stone hit the giant on the forehead. Goliath crashed to the ground and David cut off Goliaths head using the giants own sword.

Gladwell tells how, that despite his size and strength that Goliath was more vulnerable that he appeared. Gladwell introduces the idea that Goliath had a condition called acromelagy. This meant that Goliath had poor vision which was why Goliath favored close combat. He simply couldn’t see his opponent from a distance. So Goliath relied on fighting at close range and his strategy also relied on his opponent using the same weapons as him.

David changed the rules.  He took Goliath down from a distance, before Goliath could even really see David, with a stone fired from a slingshot, which, according to Gladwell would have been extremely powerful, having the equivalent velocity and effect as a shot fired from a modern handgun.

There are two key lessons that we can learn from the story of David and Goliath.

1. Your disadvantage can be your advantage – just because someone is a giant doesn’t mean that they are the winner. If you are a small charity and feel like you are competing with the big guys, use that to your advantage. What do you have that they don’t. What’s your fundraising slingshot?

2. Don’t assume you have to play by the rules. Think differently to achieve your end goal. List the ‘rules of how you do things’ and ask yourself, if you were to be disruptive and break some of those rules, what would you do?

Who are the Goliaths are in your world? What are their weaknesses? How can you be disruptive? How can you be brave and bold and dare to think and act differently to achieve your goals.

For more stories of the successful underdog read David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.

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