CELEBRATING THE SUCCESS OF UNDERDOGS


davidAdversity spawns success. Malcolm Gladwell’s new book seems to be a testimony of how those from a disadvantaged background are more likely to end up as triumphant and how our idea of strength and power is highly specious. He starts with the battle between David and Goliath that has come to symbolise how underdogs manage to vanquish their formidable opponents.
When the Davids of the world take on the Goliaths, conventional wisdom will always say that the Goliaths will defeat the Davids comprehensively. Is that actually what unfolded at the historic combat between Goliath and David? The battle between the two – one a hulking six feet nine Philistine giant and the other a diminutive shepherd boy representing the Israelites – dismantled the belief that power is the only factor responsible for success. David won the battle because he saw what others didn’t. Goliath, while being a giant and a man of war, lacked agility. He was blurry eyed because of a medical condition that also endowed him with an enormous size.
In this work, Gladwell extends the logic that the underdogs of the world actually have a better chance of crushing their opponents simply because they have nothing to lose. To clarify this point, he serves us with numerous anecdotal evidences like the one in which a basketball team comprising a bunch of blonde young girls, who are daughters of Silicon Valley techies having no idea of what basketball is, take on a skilled team and beat them in their own backyard.
Gladwell has dwelt on the art of success and human behaviour in his previous works. In this new book, he brings out the misleading nature of what seems as an advantage. What might look title-boxas an advantage to others could well be the source of weakness. He takes the example of smaller class sizes in US which has baffled many observers for long. Many view smaller class sizes as an advantage and a large class book-davidsize as a disadvantage. But Gladwell, through reasoning and empirical research, puts forth the logic that both large as well as smaller class sizes can adversely impact the quality of education that a child receives. This is how he establishes that what might seem as strength to others might actually be a weakness responsible for the downfall of an individual. This is what happened to Goliath.
The book is a collection of inspiring tales of underdogs who went on to do great things and established themselves as Davids of modern times. Gladwell also brings the difficult childhood as one of the factors responsible for success in one’s career. He illustrates this relationship between difficult childhood and success in career through the life of Dr Jay Freireich who had a rough childhood and went on to become a pioneer in the field of child leukemia.
He talks of people who were dyslexic but made it big. An interesting study that also backs the positive relation between being dyslexic and successful is that of an overwhelming number of successful entrepreneurs, from Richard Branson of Virgin group to John Chambers of technology giant Cisco. These snippets of information make the book an enjoyable read.
Gladwell tries to reinforce the idea that if a person has had to face enormous odds at some point of his life, that great adversity makes him lose his fear and prepares him to face any challenge that comes his way. What he has tried to establish is that those who come from a disadvantaged background are more likely to succeed in their pursuit of achieving their career goals.
Malcolm Gladwell has been a columnist with New Yorker and has written extensively on social psychology. Where David & Goliath falters is by generalising the underdog-making-it-large story. It isn’t always that those who have had a rough beginning made it big in life. Converting it into a universal rule is the downside of David & Goliath. There are other cases where this theory nosedives. It isn’t always that adversity leads to success even if it may hold true in some cases.

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