Malcolm Gladwell is a genius at taking what everyone knows to be true and turning it upside down and inside out. In his latest book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell destroys our assumption that the big and powerful have all the advantages, and that we underdogs and misfits don’t have a chance. It’s the perfect read to start your New Year.
Here are some great takeaways from David and Goliath:
1. Don’t let the Establishment limit your success. If the powers that be won’t give you a platform, create your own: The Impressionist movement was launched when a group of painters including Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Monet and Renoir couldn’t get their work displayed in the Paris Salon, the most important art exhibit in the world. Instead of continuing to beat on the closed door of the Salon, they started their own exhibition, and the rest is art history. “Together, this group of remarkable painters would go on to invent modern art…they supported one another emotionally and financially and today their paintings hang in every major art museum in the world”
2. Sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond: An Ivy League education isn’t necessarily the unmixed blessing you imagine. A disproportionate number of students who start out in a STEM program (science, technology, engineering or math) at an Ivy League school get discouraged and go into an easier major. They would have been better off attending a good state university, where they would have felt more confident. One Harvard student told Gladwell he got so discouraged by his quantum mechanics class that he switched to law. “Harvard cost the world a physicist and gave the world another lawyer,” Gladwell writes ruefully.
3. Your weakness may be exactly the thing that God uses to help you achieve your destiny: Gladwell explains how many dyslexics become highly successful innovators and entrepreneurs because they have to work so hard to achieve what everyone else takes for granted. The coping mechanisms dyslexics adapt prepare them to deal with obstacles that would cause the average person to give up. “Dyslexia–in the best of cases–forces you to develop skills that might otherwise have lain dormant. It also forces you to do things that you might otherwise never have considered.”
4. Don’t be afraid to stand up to bullies. Ever. This is my favorite story from David and Goliath: during WW II, the tiny French village of Le Chambon resisted the Nazi-controlled Vichy regime to give safe harbor to Jews. Led by Andre Trocmé, a pacifist Huguenot pastor, the courageous, hardy villagers outsmarted and outmaneuvered the Nazis at every turn. “How could the Nazis ever get to the end of the resources of such a people?,” Trocmé once said.
I love when conventional wisdom is exposed as no wisdom at all, and this book is full of unconventional wisdom. At heart, David and Goliath is a deeply moral book, with many examples of people triumphing over evil or adversity in the most daunting circumstances, armed only with passion, courage and faith.
You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley of Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with the sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine. Malcolm Gladwell
Don’t worry about being the guy with the sword and shield and the glittering armor, who seems to be invulnerable. Be the shepherd, because you have more strength and purpose than you ever imagined. If you are small, embattled and under-equipped, you are the perfect person to defeat Goliath. And that’s a great attitude to start the year with.
(By the way, this book is a great read for teenagers. Malcolm Gladwell has a very accessible style of writing and a wonderful way of explaining complicated concepts. There are many great lessons in this book for teens. Joe is reading it right now.)
(Affiliate link–if you buy the book through this link it won’t cost you any more, but it will help pay for Joe’s protein shakes.)
Do you have any recommendations for great books to start the New Year? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think!