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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DAVID & GOLIATH, 6 Oct 2013
This review is from: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (Hardcover)
"This is a book about what happens when ordinary people confront giants. By "giants" I mean powerful opponents of all kinds - from armies and mighty warriors, to disability, misfortune and oppression. Each chapter tells the story of a different person, famous or unknown, ordinary or brilliant - who has faced an outside challenge and been forced to respond..."

So says Malcolm Gladwell is his latest book. He says that through these stories that he wants to explore a few ideas.

The first of these counterintuitive ideas he wishes to investigate is "that much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty. "

He doesn't say that overcoming great obstacles can also produce monsters. For example the recent brilliant fictional "Breaking Bad" series featuring the mild mannered chemistry teacher, Walter White. Life deals him some bitter blows and he reacts by becoming a great Giant Slayer. His Giant enemies fall one by one. The problem is though that Walt turns to the dark side for his inspiration.

Gladwell's second intriguing idea is "Giants are not what we think they are." We have misinterpreted them. "The same qualities that give them strength are often the sources of great weakness"

He makes the third point that "The fact of being an underdog can CHANGE people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable. We need a better guide to facing giants."

Yes, people can rise to a challenge. By so doing they discover new resources they did not know they possessed. Gladwell begins this book with the famous example of this - the biblical encounter between David and Goliath. It's featured in the book's title.

Gladwell posits a new "Theory of Desirable Difficulty". Like weight training, the greater the load the more muscle that can be built up. But this presumes you can lift the weight in the first place. Hence the difficulty must not be overwhelming but rather "desirable."

This theory reminds me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book "Antifragile". (Briefly, that many things in life benefit from a certain amount of stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. Provided these stressors do not exceed a certain threshold. Gladwell is entertaining the notion that Giant Slaying falls into this category).

A theme that runs through the book is the "Inverted U Curve" - basically the Law of Diminishing Returns. To use the weight training example again - there is an optimum amount of weightlifting that can be performed in a week. However, if you exceed that figure it is actually counterproductive.

But back to the Giant Slaying - One of Gladwell's chapters is about a schoolgirl basketball team, coached by Vivek Ranadivé. From Mumbai, he knew little if anything about basketball. Perhaps this was his advantage. He turned a team that would have been considered weak into Giant Slayers by using an unconventional strategy.

Again, I am reminded of seeing a similar theme with the Michael Lewis book "Moneyball" (This was actually turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt). Here the innovation lay in how the team was recruited - whereas Ranadivé comes up with an entirely new playing strategy for tackling Giants.

When confronting Giants your strategy had better be pretty unconventional. They are not Giants for nothing. If you insist in tackling them in an orthodox fashion you are going to fare worse.

As usual, Gladwell writes in an entertaining and accessible style. He makes you think outside the box. And that can only be a good thing.
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