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October 9, 2013 / glennlim thots

David & Goliath


In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, he re-tells the classic underdog story of a teenage boy who took on a giant…and won! It was the ultimate upset during its day in 1,100 BC!

In those days it was quite common for one soldier to challenge another from the enemy camp. It was called “Single Combat”, and saved nations from losing hundreds or thousands of militia by sending out a representative to fight for their country. The big difference this time was that a young, untrained shepherd (David) volunteered for the Israelite army, to stand against the giant Goliath representing the Philistine army.

But this was not the only difference David brought to the battle. In those days, there were three types of soldiers:

  1. Cavalry – The ones who rode horses, who could ride into action.
  2. Infantry – The foot soldiers who were strong in using the sword and spear.
  3. Artillery – Those who were archers and slingers who usually stayed behind.

Goliath was infantry. He was so big, strong and intimidating, that no enemy infantry (foot soldier) from among the Jews wanted to take him on. He was the Philistines’ not-so-secret weapon that prevented armies from taking them on. No other infantry measured up. He was a giant. But David represented artillery. While he had no formal military training, he’d used his sling for years to protect his sheep from bears and lions. Running to Goliath, David never saw himself as an underdog. He had a sling, some stones and a huge cause he represented.

While others believed Goliath was too big to hit, David felt he was too big to miss.

Bottom line: Artillery beats Infantry. Malcolm’s point is simply this – The next time you feel you or your organization is an underdog, think again. While you may be smaller, perhaps you possess a strength (like David) that makes you faster, more nimble, more creative or more accurate. Maybe smaller is better, less is more. Goliath was a giant, which likely made him slow and awkward. I honestly think David ran on to the battlefield feeling a bit sorry for this clumsy guy in front of him. Think of the young startups or entrepreneurs making history today. They are small businesses (SMEs), new schools or non-profits that can make quick decisions & adjustments that older, bigger “Goliath” type companies just can’t make. They are creative, innovative and not confined to tradition as they think or plan.

David and Goliath illustration

So here are some questions leaders must ask before a giant problem:

  • Are my perceived strengths and weaknesses based on traditional thinking?
  • Do I have any assumed weaknesses that actually could be strengths?
  • What do I own that if used properly could give me an incredible advantage?
  • How must I think differently and “outside the box” about this problem?


Watch an excerpt from Gladwell’s TED Talk session here:



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