Why do underdogs do so much better than expected? That is the main question in Malcolm Gladwell’s newest writing, ‘David and Goliath’. As I am a fond reader and a big fan of Mr. Gladwell, I’d like to take a moment to share my thoughts on this.
Part 1: the advantages of disadvantages. We dive into a few examples where perceived disadvantages could be turned into advantages:
- David vs Goliath: the ability of David, a shepherd, with the sling, leads to the defeat of Goliath, who was prepared for a classical heavy battle only.
- A nerdy girl basketball team: though the team was a very inexperienced bunch, they weren’t really very good at dribbling or shooting. So they overturned their tactics and focused on guarding every player in the other team so that passing became impossible. Also they compensated their lack of skill by building tremendous stamina.
- Lawrence of Arabia: instead of winning on firepower versus the Turks, they applied their speed of moving to fight a guerilla war.
- Large classes: scientific evidence is surfacing that small classes do not necessarily lead to better results. The idea is that children in large classes will feel less vulnerable. In small classes, the teacher will not always spend more time-per-child. Very often he will just work less.
- Parents earning too much: when children grow up in a poor family, they don’t ask for ponies; they know their parents can’t afford it. In a rich family, they will, and that moment requires a real conversation between parents and children. But often parents are not used to that or don’t make the time, which leads to either spoiled children or a worsening relationship
- Too fancy a university: every good student aims to end up in an Ivy League school, where the competition among the best and brightest push even very good students in the lower quartile. These students feel like losers and often struggle to keep motivated. Research shows it is sometimes better to go to a lower-tier school and excel there. The same student will end up with better grades, more confidence and a good career.
Next post will elaborate a bit on Part 2 of ‘David & Goliath’, the ‘Theory of desirable difficulty’.