BOOK BIZ — Rethinking what defines an underdog and how they manage to win

by For the MBJ

Published: February 21,2014

Tags: Book Biz, Business, Mississippi, The New York Times

» David and Goliath: Underdogs,  Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants    By Malcolm Gladwell  Published by Little, Brown and Co. $29.00 hardback

» David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants
By Malcolm Gladwell
Published by Little, Brown and Co.
$29.00 hardback

Author Malcolm Gladwell has made a career out of taking conventional wisdom and turning it on its head. Whether he’s explaining how seemingly small events transform themselves into trends (The Tipping Point), or how protégés and experts are made and not born (Outliers), or how what we perceive as instinct may not be (Blink), his books challenge us to reassess our assumptions about how the world works.

His newest book, David and Goliath, tackles, broadly, how we view advantages and disadvantages. How do underdogs win against those with everything stacked in their favor? What can we learn from them? In classic Gladwell style, he introduces us to everyday people who have overcome what, at first glance, seem to be impossible odds. And he demonstrates that “giants” can be toppled and, in fact, may not be giants at all.

A mix of popular science, sociology and cultural study, David and Goliath is easy to read and covers a fascinating array of topics. Gladwell moves, for instance, from whether or not a high school graduate should always choose the best college he or she is accepted to, to examples of successful people who flourished despite (or maybe because of) their dyslexia, to questioning whether small class sizes really are beneficial to students, to examining whether losing a parent at a young age can actually motivate someone to succeed later in life. That’s just a small sampling.

Along the way, I suspect anyone reading this book will find at least one of Gladwell’s conclusions completely counterintuitive. Yet his writing and storytelling and the evidence he produces will make you think long and hard about your own preconceptions and the way you view the world. That’s what I think his particular gift as a writer is, and that’s what makes his books so enjoyable to read. You’re going to learn something, in an interesting way, and there’s a strong chance you’ll look at things differently after. (Including, here, the story we’ve all grown up hearing about how David defeated Goliath.)

Maybe you consider yourself (or your business) to be an underdog. Or perhaps you’re actually a giant, with a dominant position in your industry and among your competitors. Regardless, there are smart take-aways to be found throughout this book. There’s no guarantee, after all, that every Goliath will be brought to his knees and every David will prevail. Retuning your thinking about each side of this equation could be helpful and would undoubtedly be interesting.

— LouAnn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

 

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