Two Thumbs Up for “David and Goliath”

The other day I picked up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath at the library. For a few days it sat on the floor next to the bed while I finished something else I was reading. This weekend I finally started reading it and — wow. I see what all the buzz is about.

Gladwell wrote Tipping Point among other best sellers, and he seems to have a knack for explaining counterintuitive truth. I’m only halfway through David and Goliath but the premise is simple: most of what we in our society presume to be true about the benefits of size and strength and talent may in fact be false. Gladwell starts with the Biblical account of the legendary battle between the Philistine giant Goliath — the odds-on favorite in the confrontation — and the young shepherd boy David, who refused to wear the king’s armor and instead went onto the field with nothing but a stick and a sling. We tend to think of this story as the classic account of the victory of the underdog, so much so that just about every struggle in the business world between a plucky upstart and a big, entrenched competitor is described as “a real David-and-Goliath story.”

But was David really the underdog? Gladwell says no. Goliath the giant was armed (and armored) for lumbering, close-quarters battle with his dreaded spear and his vicious sword. But David was all about mobility. The sling he carried was a weapon in common use in the day, employed by well-trained, nimble soldiers who could hit a big, stationary target like Goliath with deadly precision at a range of hundreds of yards. The outcome of the confrontation between David and Goliath was probably a foregone conclusion, but not in the way we typically think.

Considering the fight from a Biblical point of view (see 1 Samuel 17) it’s important to note that God’s purposes were clearly served by the outcome. But in the world of business there are some highly pertinent lessons to be taken from the David vs. Goliath battle along with other examples Gladwell includes in his book. I’m planning to buy myself a copy (since the library frowns on patrons filling their books with yellow highlighter) and I urge you to do the same. David and Goliath has already begun to change the way I think about my job as a fundraiser — starting with the renewed conviction that, in spite of prevailing wisdom, “smaller” really can mean “better.”

I’ll share more later. Meanwhile, if you’ve read David and Goliath, I welcome your thoughts.