David and Goliath

By Engr. Carlos V. Cornejo

Malcolm Gladwell famous for authoring best-selling books such as “The Tipping Point” and “Outliers” that are so popular because of the unexpected results of his sociology research that catches many by surprise, has come up with a relatively new book published in 2013, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”  The book could help us win against the toughest of opponents in sports or any competition.

David, a shepherd boy carrying a wooden staff and sling, volunteers to fight a seven‐foot giant named Goliath. Goliath is fully armored with a sword in one hand and a spear in the other. When he sees David approach him with a wooden staff, he laughs and says, “Am I a dog that

you should come to me with sticks?” David quietly puts a stone in his sling and fires it at a tiny opening in Goliath’s helmet. Goliath falls to the ground, stunned. David runs to Goliath, grabs his sword, and cuts his head off. (1 Sam 17:41-51)

How did David win?  According to the author, David won because he neutralized his opponent’s advantage, which is the first technique in battling tough adversaries.  The conventional fight in David’s time was sword-by-sword combat.  Had David fought Goliath that way, David would not stand a chance.  So, David went out of the usual by fighting Goliath from a distance and turn the battle into a contest between Goliath’s spear throwing ability and David’s sling shooting skills.

David happened to be a sling master who killed bears and lions that tried to run off with his sheep. David’s sling may have looked harmless, but historians estimate it could hurl stones with stopping power equivalent to the modern handgun.  By going against conventional wisdom and strategically altering the rules of engagement, David neutralized Goliath’s size, strength, and power, and flipped the competition in his favor.  The next time you face a powerful opponent, ask yourself, “How can I fight this battle on my terms and neutralize my opponent’s advantage?”

The author says, in applying this principle in business, if you are facing a giant business competitor, center your marketing campaign around character and quality instead of efficiency and cost. For example, a small coffee shop could compete against large coffee shop chains like Starbucks by promoting the fact that they use coffee beans from a small family farm in Honduras and roast their beans on site for maximum freshness (something that just isn’t feasible for a massive coffee shop chain like Starbucks).

Another technique would be knowing the rules of the competition thoroughly and look for gaps in them that you could take advantage of.  Author and podcaster Tim Ferriss entered a Chinese National Kickboxing Tournament and won gold by studying the rules of competition and learning that if he pushed his opponent off the elevated platform three times in a single round, he would automatically win the match. Ferriss leveraged his high school wrestling training and made every match a pushing contest instead of a kickboxing contest.

Be a Big Fish at a Small Pond

If you were a promising young economic student, where would you go to graduate school: a great school like Harvard or a merely good school like the University of Toronto? If you’re good enough to get into Harvard but choose to go to the University of Toronto and graduate in the

top 5% of your class, you are twice as likely to get a paper published in a prestigious economic journal than 80% of Harvard graduates.

University of Toronto economists who graduate in the top 5% of their class publish 1.8 papers six years after graduation, whereas Harvard economists who fail to graduate in the top 20% of their class publish just 0.7 papers six years after graduation.  In other words, better be a big fish in a small pond where you can be easily noticed by the public being a top honor in a less prestigious school, than be a small fish in a big pond by being just one of the honor graduates in a highly prestigious school without sacrificing the things you’ve learned by keeping up with what they study in great schools.