Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to host an interview with best-selling writer, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. I loved them all, and spending time lobbing questions his way was the highlight of my week.
I was like a kid in a candy store.
We focused on his new book, David and Goliath, the classic underdog story of a teenage boy who took on a giant and won. Even if you don’t consider yourself a religious or deeply spiritual person you know this story. It was the ultimate upset.
What I loved was that Gladwell shared insights that only a research journalist would have found out about this story that took place in 1,100 BC.
He reminded us that for one soldier to challenge another from the enemy camp was quite common centuries ago. It was called “Single Combat” and saved nations from losing hundreds or thousands of militia by sending out a representative to fight for their country. The big difference this time was a young, untrained shepherd volunteered for the Israelites. But this was not the only difference David brought to the battle. In those days, there were three types of soldiers:
- Cavalry – The ones who rode horses, who could ride into action.
- Infantry – The foot soldiers who were strong in using the sword and spear.
- Artillery – Those who were archers and slingers who usually stayed behind.
Goliath was infantry. He was so big, strong and intimidating, that no enemy infantry (foot soldier) from among the Jews wanted to take him on. He was the Philistines’ not-so-secret weapon that prevented armies from taking them on. No other infantry measured up. He was a giant.
But David represented artillery. While he had no formal military training, he’d used his sling for years to protect his sheep from bears and lions. Running to Goliath, David never saw himself as an underdog. He had a sling, some stones and a huge cause he represented. While others believed Goliath was too big to hit, David felt he was too big to miss. The bottom line: artillery beats infantry.
Malcolm’s point is simply this. The next time you feel you or your organization is an underdog, think again. While you may be smaller, perhaps you possess a strength that makes you faster, more nimble, more creative or more accurate, like David. Maybe smaller is better. Goliath was a giant, which likely made him slow and awkward. I honestly think David ran on to the battlefield feeling a bit sorry for this clumsy guy in front of him.
Think of the young, entrepreneurial organizations making history today. They are small businesses, new schools or non-profits that can turn on a dime and make adjustments that older, bigger “Goliath” type companies just can’t make. They are creative and not confined to tradition as they think or plan.
So here are some questions leaders must ask before a giant problem:
- Are my perceived strengths and weaknesses based on traditional thinking?
- Do I have any assumed weaknesses that actually could be strengths?
- What do I own that if used properly could give me an incredible advantage?
- How must I think differently and “outside the box” about this problem?
May you run to your next Goliath.