When underdogs break the rules. Why have so few adopted it? The first was that he would never raise his voice. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.
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The L. He had a faraway look in his eyes. When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. In , the Peruvians fought the Spanish straight up and lost; in , the Georgians fought the Russians straight up and lost; in , the Pindaris fought the British straight up and lost; in the Kandyan rebellion of , the Sri Lankans fought the British straight up and lost; in , the Burmese chose to fight the British straight up and lost.
The list of failures was endless. In the nineteen-forties, the Communist insurgency in Vietnam bedevilled the French until, in , the Viet Minh strategist Vo Nguyen Giap switched to conventional warfare—and promptly suffered a series of defeats. As a result, he was defeated time after time and almost lost the war.
It is easier to dress soldiers in bright uniforms and have them march to the sound of a fife-and-drum corps than it is to have them ride six hundred miles through the desert on the back of a camel. It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing.
We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. Louisville was the Mecca for all those Davids trying to learn how to beat Goliaths.
We spend very little time talking. We are always working. The coaches who came to Louisville sat in the stands and watched that ceaseless activity and despaired. They would rather lose. It was a war game. The contestants had been given several volumes of rules, well beforehand, and had been asked to design their own fleet of warships with a mythical budget of a trillion dollars. The fleets then squared off against one another in the course of a weekend. The losers get eliminated, and the field gets smaller and smaller, and the audience gets larger and larger.
Lenat did not give Eurisko any advice or steer the program in any particular strategic direction. He was not a war-gamer. He simply let Eurisko figure things out for itself. For about a month, for ten hours every night on a hundred computers at Xerox PARC, in Palo Alto, Eurisko ground away at the problem, until it came out with an answer.
Most teams fielded some version of a traditional naval fleet—an array of ships of various sizes, each well defended against enemy attack. Eurisko thought differently.
Basically, if they were hit once they would sink. And what happened is that the enemy would take its shots, and every one of those shots would sink our ships. The next year, Lenat entered once more, only this time the rules had changed. Fleets could no longer just sit there. Eurisko won again. Eurisko was an underdog. The other gamers were people steeped in military strategy and history.
They were the sort who could tell you how Wellington had outfoxed Napoleon at Waterloo, or what exactly happened at Antietam. They had been raised on Dungeons and Dragons.
They were insiders. Eurisko, on the other hand, knew nothing but the rule book. It had no common sense. Insurgents work harder than Goliath. When the game becomes about effort over ability, it becomes unrecognizable—a shocking mixture of broken plays and flailing limbs and usually competent players panicking and throwing the ball out of bounds.
You have to be outside the establishment—a foreigner new to the game or a skinny kid from New York at the end of the bench—to have the audacity to play it that way.
His dream, before the war, was to be a British Army officer, finely turned out in a red coat and brass buttons. Advertisement T. Lawrence, by contrast, was the farthest thing from a proper British Army officer. He did not graduate with honors from Sandhurst.
He was an archeologist by trade, a dreamy poet. He wore sandals and full Bedouin dress when he went to see his military superiors. He spoke Arabic like a native, and handled a camel as if he had been riding one all his life.
He came at Goliath with a slingshot and staff because those were the tools of his trade. The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider. Why did the Ivy League schools of the nineteen-twenties limit the admission of Jewish immigrants? Goliath does not simply dwarf David.
He brings the full force of social convention against him; he has contempt for David. People felt sorry for us. But somewhere around the third round they stopped laughing, and some time around the fourth round they started complaining to the judges.
When we won again, some people got very angry, and the tournament directors basically said that it was not really in the spirit of the tournament to have these weird computer-designed fleets winning. They said that if we entered again they would stop having the tournament. I decided the best thing to do was to graciously bow out. And they were right. The trouble for Redwood City started early in the regular season.
The opposing coaches began to get angry. The point of basketball, the dissenting chorus said, was to learn basketball skills. Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable—that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.
He obviously played football and basketball himself, and he saw that skinny, foreign guy beating him at his own game. He wanted to beat me up. We were just playing aggressive defense. One time, we were playing this all-black team from East San Jose. They had been playing for years.
These were born-with-a-basketball girls. We were just crushing them. We were up something like twenty to zero. He started screaming at his girls, and of course the more you scream at girls that age the more nervous they get.
I was afraid. In the third round, their opponents were from somewhere deep in Orange County. Redwood City had to play them on their own court, and the opponents supplied their own referee as well. The Redwood City players left their hotel at six, to beat the traffic. It was downhill from there. He began calling one foul after another. Ticky-tacky stuff. The memory was painful. There was still a chance to win. He had to. The Redwood City players retreated to their own end, and passively watched as their opponents advanced down the court.
How David Beats Goliath
So imagine our excitement when we read this article in The New Yorker. In it Gladwell uses our favorite sport — basketball — to show that underdogs win by being willing to break from what is expected and, basically, do hard things. He tells the story of a seventh-grade girls basketball team that chose to make up for a lack of skill with hard work — instituting a real full-court press every time down the court. And it worked! Despite playing against teams with bigger, stronger, more talented players — who had played together for several years — they kept winning. Take the time to understand and appreciate what Gladwell says next: It is easier to retreat and compose yourself after every score than swarm about, arms flailing [in a full-court press].
David and Goliath Summary: Malcolm Gladwell
We all think we know what happened when David took on Goliath: the little guy won. Gladwell thinks we all have it wrong, and opens his new book with a retelling of that story. But as Gladwell points out, it was Goliath who was the vulnerable one. He was a giant, which made him slow, clumsy and probably half-blind double vision is a common side-effect of an excess of human growth hormone. The only way he could have beaten David was by literally getting his hands on him — but David had no need to go anywhere near him. David had a sling.
Malcolm Gladwell: How David Beats Goliath
If you think you know the story of David and Goliath , think again. In his new book, "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants," Malcolm Gladwell says most people get this famous Biblical yarn all wrong because they misunderstand who really has the upper hand. In other words, Gladwell says, most people underestimate the importance of agility and speed. The same misunderstanding happens in David vs. Goliath fights in business, which Gladwell substantiates with numerous case studies and research examples in his recently published book.