Sunday, June 28, 2009

Winning Against the Odds

A Malcolm Gladwell essay "How David beats Goliath" shares lessons on how underdogs win.

Rule #1 - Change the rules of the game: Gladwell talks of how a teenaged girl's basketball team of no particular ability achieved success by upending the usual protocols of the game - executing a full-court press with such vigor that his team would end up denying inbound passes from the other team, defeating them. He recounts T.E.Lawrence, "Lawrence of Arabia", and how in World War I he defeated the Turks using unconventional tactics, including his famous and unexpected attack on Aqaba.

Rule #2 - Relentless effort beats ability:

"Effort can trump ability—legs, in Saxe’s formulation, can overpower arms—because relentless effort is in fact something rarer than the ability to engage in some finely tuned act of motor co√∂rdination. ....
Rule #3 - Don't be afraid to defy conventions:
Insurgents work harder than Goliath. But their other advantage is that they will do what is “socially horrifying”—they will challenge the conventions about how battles are supposed to be fought. All the things that distinguish the ideal basketball player are acts of skill and co√∂rdination. When the game becomes about effort over ability, it becomes unrecognizable ...
Breaking the rules is so unexpected because it is also so hard. It is hard because it requires tremendous effort and it breaks socially acceptable conventions. Gladwell concludes that when David breaks the rules, he can beat Goliath more than we might expect. But would-be Davids often don't "think outside the box", often cannot or will not execute the difficult or challenging unconventional strategies that will enable them to win. But when they do, the 'impossible' becomes possible.

PS. Wellstone Action folks think these lessons are true in political campaigns. They are probably right.

PPS. A David-v-Goliath political story, or how Eric Odom and Allen Fuller used twitter to kick-start #dontgo last summer. But using social media to beat traditional media is not David v Goliath, it's more linke Agincourt's longbowmen beating the French Knights.

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