David and Goliath

Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath, continues his excellent tradition of presenting psychological science in a way that is interesting and accessible. Admittedly, I appreciate that Gladwell makes psychology “popular,” though in this case the science is fairly light and the emphasis more on storytelling. Gladwell takes on the topic of why and how underdogs beat the favorites more than we think they should. He examines three aspects: 1) the advantages of disadvantages, 2) desirable difficulty, and 3) the limits of power.

An interesting idea from the advantages of disadvantages essentially revolved around the idea that people/teams that aren’t good enough are more willing to do difficult things that can become advantageous for them. For example, Rick Pitino was able to convince teams lacking talent (relatively speaking, of course) to be in great condition and then utilize a full court press to make their opponents uncomfortable and tired.

Tellingly, when other coaches come to learn Pitino’s techniques, they often leave knowing that they will not be able to get their teams to practice as hard as is necessary to be in shape to make the system work. The problem: their teams are just good enough to not be desperate to try anything. They’d rather be comfortable and good than get out of their comfort zone for a chance to be better.

What difficult (and, often, creative) thing could you do that would turn your disadvantage into an advantage?


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