Underdog stories evoke all kinds of emotion in people. Everyone loves a good underdog story, seeing an unlikely hero rise up and defeat a formidable foe. Stories like these are inspiring, they give us hope that it’s not always the “Big Guy” that wins, but that sometimes, the little guy can win. Many of these underdog stories have been called “David and Goliath” stories after the biblical account of the same name.
Malcolm Gladwell’s writing was a draw for me the first time that I opened “The Tipping Point.” I had heard so much about him and his writing and was intrigued to finally dive into one of his books. I had ordered “The Tipping Point” and, like so many other books, it had sat unread on my shelf for quite some time. Then, surprisingly and maybe even providentially, I received one of the syllabi for a seminary class that I was taking and found that it was required reading for the class.
Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath” was on my 2014 reading list and I put it on the priority list since Gladwell has been on the radar a lot lately. During the writing of this book, Gladwell rediscovered the faith of his upbringing (check this out). I was anxious to get into the book and see for myself what I thought of his latest work.
It did not disappoint. Gladwell gave example after example of unlikely situations, which, at first glance, seemed impossible with the odds stacked largely against. But at closer examination, it seemed that what could easily be perceived as weaknesses were actually strengths. From learning disabilities like dyslexia to difficult upbringings to losing parents at a young age to facing the figurative “Goliaths” of the real world such as sexual predators and racists, Gladwell gives a broad swath of examples from every walk of life and from many areas of interest. The circumstances that he portrays would seem to knock people down, rendering them helpless and hopeless, but instead, they actually accomplished the opposite impact, they caused people to rise up, invoking courage and fearlessness in them.
On the opposite side of things, what had been perceived as strengths by many people actually became weaknesses. Upon closer examination, there was a heavy reliance on perceived strengths which actually left people unprepared for facing circumstances that had been called “impossible” in the surficial analaysis. “Goliaths” toppled in the presence of “Davids” and left many people scratching their heads wondering how the impossible had become possible.
Gladwell says, “We all assume that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest.” Turns out, these things can easily become weaknesses, and in fact, they do become just that more often than not. By eliminating obstacles, the perceived giants can get lazy, or “fat and happy.” We’ve all seen it played out before, but I’ve experienced it in sports more than any other place.
I remember the NCAA National Championship game in 1999 between Duke and UConn (the University of Connecticut). My wife is a UConn graduate and the majority of her family roots for the Huskies (their mascot). As a UNC (University of North Carolina) fan, there are few teams as hated to me as Duke, so I easily found myself rooting along with my wife and her family for UConn. Not only was it good for our marriage, but it served my own purpose to root for anyone but Duke.
It was amusing to watch the Duke players as UConn pushed them hard all game long. It seemed that this “Goliath” (Duke) was astounded that they would come in and have anyone do less than cower at their greatness. But UConn did just that, they trampled on Duke and left them bewildered at how they could lose to a team like UConn. When the final buzzer went off, the score was 77-74 in favor of UConn. Duke was stunned. Goliath had fallen. The underdog was triumphant. David had won.
Gladwell, brings up some very interesting points throughout the book, points which should make any of us reconsider our own preconceived notions about what is an advantage and what is a disadvantage. It certainly gave me question to pause and reconsider. Over and over, I found myself relating to many of these things because I had actually experienced them in my own life but had failed to really see.
If you are interested in sociology and the study of trends and patterns, Gladwell does his research well and tells a fascinating story as he shares what he discovered. This book will certainly make you think twice about siding with “Goliath” once you realize that his perceived strengths might be actual weaknesses instead.