I spent the better part of a Saturday morning at a coffee shop in Cedar Rapids and found an inspirational and motivating article by Malcom Gladwell called How David Beats Goliath.
The basic wisdom behind the piece in the New Yorker is that when underdogs break away from conventional wisdom, they win.
Gladwell uses a true story of a weak youth girl’s basketball team who utilizes a non-stop full-court press to have a better chance against stronger teams, and does it to great success. But yet the full-court press is not widely adopted in the basketball world. Why?
When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, ‘even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.’
This article was increasingly important to my mental status as the place where I work is undertaking another round of reorganization and uncertainty and what our CEO Chuck Peters labeled in an email recently as “reorganization fatigue.”
We are facing the same economic pressures and societal changes as every other media company. We also are in a community that suffered a historic natural disaster almost a year ago which has added to the tough economic situation.
As a company we’ve gotten smaller and recently reprioritized. We’ve focused on the concept of separating content from product, changed roles and responsibilities and have more people wearing more hats than ever before.
I’m not trying to say our current plight rises to the level of David vs. Goliath, but if that gets you motivated, go for it. Rather, it’s a plea to understand it’s going to take unconventional ways, uncomfortable moments and an increased willingness to try new things.
What was perhaps most fascinating in the article was the research conducted by political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft. Arreguin-Toft looked at every war in the past two hundred years and found that when the weaker combatants changed the rules, their win percentage went from 28.5% to 63.6%. That’s an astounding figure. (From Dennis Yang who writes how this also applied to the business world).
On that note, I agree with Gladwell when he writes about effort and ability. It resonated with me as we face an uphill battle to transform a media company into a community connection and how daunting of a task that must seem like given all the negativity about the media industry.
David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability—and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for underdogs in all walks of life, including little blond-haired girls on the basketball court.
We tell ourselves that skill is the precious resource and effort is the commodity. It’s the other way around. Effort can trump ability . . . because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor coordination.
I like that we are not sitting back and waiting for something to happen. We are likely to reorganize again and rethink think how we are doing things. And, to me, that’s better than the alternative. Doing nothing and trying only conventional ideas is not acceptable.
The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider.
But let’s remember who made that rule: Goliath. And let’s remember why Goliath made that rule: when the world has to play on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins.
- Malcolm Gladwell Wants To Know Why Your Team Doesn’t Press More [Basketball] (deadspin.com)
- Underdogs Win By Changing The Rules (techdirt.com)
- Gladwell on David vs. Goliath (kennykellogg.com)
- Recipe for an Underdog (myespn.go.com)
- Innovation Pressure (meganmcardle.theatlantic.com)
- Gladwell on How David Beats Goliath (paul.kedrosky.com)
- What is this News Tribe thing? (newstribe.us)