As the title implies, Malcolm Gladwell’s theory begins with the Old Testament story of David and Goliath. Most children raised in a Jewish or Christian tradition loved this story. In case you aren’t familiar with it, let me summarize it for you:
Goliath is a powerful fighter, in fact, the most powerful man sent to conquer the Israelites. As some wars were fought in those days, one man challenged the opposition to fight against their most powerful man. But Goliath was so strong and powerful that even the strongest of the Israelites were afraid to go up against him.
And then along comes a young boy, David, who has come to deliver something to his older brothers. David’s main job back home is to take care of the sheep. He knows nothing about being in the army and he has no experience fighting giants. Nevertheless, David studies Goliath as he struts back and forth with his sharp sword. Finally, David says, “I’ll fight him.”
The men of the Israili army are shocked. How can a little boy go up against the best fighter? David insists. He picks up a stone and loads it into his slingshot. He swings it around and around and finally releases it. The stone, flying very fast, strikes Goliath in the head and knoks him out. David runs to Goliath, takes his sword and kills him.
The author, Malcolm Gladwell, asks the question Sunday School teachers have been asking since the story was first told: How does this story fit into our lives today? In this book, Malcolm Gladwell matches the David and Goliath story against a host of situations and a ton of research. He shows how numerous Davids have analyzed impossible situations and figured, consciously or unconsciously, a way around the odds.
I found the results very interesting. They made me do a lot of thinking. One of my favorite examples has to do with girl’s basketball team of twelve-year-olds. One of the girl’s dads was the coach. He had never played basketball and only two of the girls had ever played. But, the coach studied how the game was played and decided he would teach the girls to do something different. For instance, he noticed that most teams did not really challenge the ball when it came in from out of bounds and on down to the other end. The coach taught his girls to do full-court-press against the incoming ball and challenge the ball all the way to the other end. It threw the opposition off guard and it used up their time. The team found themselves in the national championships by using a strategy that was a diffeerent way to play the game.
- The author went on to examine other examples of how people took what was assumed to be the most powerful or best way to do something and turned it around to the advantage of those with little power. Here’s a few of the examples he talks about in the book:
- The large number of successful people who are dyslexic. How did that hapen?
- Very smart, top-of-their-class college students who get into top universities and then don’t do so well. Would they have been better off at schools with less talented kids?
- Parents with too much money often creates parenting problems.
- California’s 3-strikes-and-you’re-out-law caused more problems in the criminal justice system and didn’t solve the problem.
- How small class sizes are necessarily good for children
This book was a great stimulaor for thinking in different directions. It also created a lot of interesting conversations. I’m not sure that all of the theories in the book are able to stand up to tough scrutiny, but it sure made for stimulating thoughts. I highly recommend it.