Review – David & Goliath:…The Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

Rarely does the entrepreneur find a book that supports the belief that the greater the odds the more the reward as Gladwell’s book on The Art of Battling Giants. Most of us have beliefs based on experience and education like the strong guy will defeat the little guy; a prestigious college will provide the better education; and, in education, the smaller the class size the better. Gladwell offers several amazing examples that challenge and seem to defeat these beliefs in an entertaining and dramatic style.  For space considerations my article will focus on three of these stories.

Vivek’s Middle School Girls Basketball Team

Vivek is a naturalized citizen from Mumbai having grown up playing soccer and cricket. Upon seeing his first American basketball game he was surprised that most of the game was played on only half of the court. He noted that, in the half court, the taller, stronger and better shooters benefitted because they could set up, shoot, rebound and dominate a lesser, smaller team. When he started coaching his inexperienced middle school team, he installed a full court press which challenged the experienced teams when they tried inbounding and bringing the ball up the court.  He found that while they were more talented at shooting and rebounding, the bigger team did not know much about dribbling, passing and maneuvering the ball up the court .  His strategy worked as his girls team went on to beat many previously unbeaten teams and eventually became state champions in their class.

Shephaug Valley Middle School

An upstate Connecticut middle school was the choice of the area during the baby boom era but as times changed and real estate costs soared, many families moved to less costly areas.  Fewer families resulted in fewer students and a  reduction in class size from a high of 38 to 15.  Does the 15 class size sound good?  Most of us would say yes but again Gladwell shows us a different result.  

Gladwell introduces the inverted U curve theory which says that additional money and resources help to a point but eventually other intangible factors arise when class size falls below a certain level. He provides many examples to support his theory and leaves the reader wondering what’s best.

Caroline Sacks goes to College

Caroline was a well performing high school student having excellent grades and scores on the college entrance exams.  She was accepted to numerous colleges but narrowed her choices down to a prestigious Ivy league and a non-Ivy league college.  In the end she chose the Ivy league school feeling it was the better choice.  Gladwell,however, shows us a different way of looking at the result. 

Caroline loved science and biology courses and decided to major in science in college.  She describes her initial interaction with students as pleasant and compatible.  However, as time went on, the difficulty of the courses and the competitive nature of the students started to bother Caroline. The students were not as friendly as originally thought and it was depressing to  realize that in the science program she was “middle of the road”. She had never scored below an “A” and receiving lesser grades was devastating. Eventually Caroline switched to a liberal arts major in pre-law. Later she graduated from law school and now works as a tax attorney in a New York city firm.

Gladwell laments the loss of a potentially good scientist and regards her selection of the law career as an unfortunate second class choice.  I disagree with Gladwell on this conclusion as most of us change our mind on career choice several times in life.

  Gladwell says that in the non-Ivy league college Caroline would probably have been in the top quarter of her class and happier with herself.  He provides several studies supporting his position that the top quarter graduates from non-Ivy league are quite successful in scientific fields and write more accepted research papers than higher rated colleges.  

Summary 

These examples and the other stories are very entertaining and challenge our beliefs on what’s best. I feel the entrepreneur will look to the challenges of the business as opportunities and show us new ways and visions using imagination and courage.

 

 

 Bob Barkett, BarkettConsulting.com

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