David and Goliath


David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell (author of among others, Tipping Point, Outliers, What the Dog Saw) has a new book out, David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of Battling Giants. As usual, he’s controversial, outspoken, and is causing quite a stir. It has been lambasted by critics and scholars around the world. It seems that he doesn’t take the science he uses to back up his positions seriously enough, and therefore his conclusions may be flawed.  Not ARE flawed, but MAY be flawed.  Hmmmmm

He talks about the “fish in pond” issue in choosing a college and has gotten a lot of flack for his position on education. Briefly it goes like this. If a person is a straight “A” student and works and studies hard, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will succeed at certain schools. He uses the example of a woman who excelled in high school and could go to any college she wanted, she selected an Ivy League school and became a ‘small fish in a big pond.” She got her first “c” and although she worked hard, the competition was extremely rough, she did not succeed. and dropped out. Had she gone to a very good State University near her home she would have been a ‘big fish in a small pond,” and become very successful and happy as a PHD marine biologist. It was not to be.

This doesn’t seem like heresy, but simple logic.

He is criticized by his description of the Biblical fight between David and Goliath. It turns out that Goliath may have been handicapped, and David was using relatively high tech weapons, a sling that wielded properly produced a missile the speed of a bullet. Critics say that therefore, actually David was Goliath and vice versa. Its the perception that I think was his point. Goliath and his masters thought he was the sure winner and expected a similar opponent. When David showed up with his sling shot, Goliath was dumfounded; he didn’t know how to fight on that battle field. The result was preordained.
Isn’t that the point?

Gladwell doesn’t claim to be a scholar, but a story teller.  His books are fun to read and cause you to reconsider about some of the ‘truths’ we hold dear.

In his story about ‘rich’ middle school girls from Silicon Valley who ended last in a basketball league  because they had everything except knowledge, physical prowess, or skill needed to win. Their coach considered a strategy, taken from John Wooden at UCLA half a century ago, that if the girls were in good physical condition and could run against the opposition, using a ‘full court press,’ they had a better chance to win. If you are short, unskilled, and ignorant of the game, you can at least get into good shape. The team ‘almost’ became champions, certainly surprising both themselves and their confused opposition. The opponents couldn’t react quickly enough to the new tactics.

Just seems like using the skills you have and changing the game to fit them. Heh.

David and Goliath may not be the stemwinder that “Outliers” was in that the previous book was a metaphor for success through hard work and perseverance, but it does help us reconsider the ‘facts’ that the big and powerful always must win and that attending the ‘best’ school may not always be a winning strategy.

Read it. You will like it.




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John Van Horn

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