In an article for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about when Davids are able to beat Goliaths. When are guys who lack brains, strength, or technique able to win against those who have those attributes in spades? He says when they don't play by the traditional rules, have great attitude, and work harder than the Goliaths. He cites research on this topic:
David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical
account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time.
The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war
fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak
combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases.
That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in
which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed
might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided
contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.
Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of
mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to
wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he
stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in
Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones.
What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise
acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He
went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning
percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by
Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.”
Gladwell also looks at how a team of untalented, short girls made it to the Nationals for high school basketball. He says the the key factor was that the coach, a dad of one of the girls, changed up the rules. I think that money was also a factor. The dad was a CEO a big computer company and hired big shot experts, but Gladwell doesn't give that factor much attention.
Elsewhere Gladwell and David Brooks have written about the limits of IQ. Gladwell explains that the research shows that a base level IQ is required for success, 130 or something, but after that, it doesn't matter. Other factors are more important in explaining success. Brooks says the latest research shows that practice is more important than IQ.
Why are we talking about IQ and underdogs and effort? Because in the new economy, it is much more difficult to know what to do to be successful. The old routes to success are dead-ends. And career success depends more on a mysterious combination of factors. College dropouts are billionaires. Poor immigrants are Silicon Valley super heros. Traditional employment options are going Chapter 11.
I had a long chat with a dad on the edge of a rainy soccer field on Sunday. I have to figure out how to write about that conversation while respecting his privacy and his world perspective. He's a Vietnam vet and a contractor who hasn't been able to get any work for two years. In his early 60s, he's struggling to support his five kids and pay his taxes. I like the man.
As part of this long conversation, he told me that I should have Jonah join the Boy Scouts, because he would be able to put Eagle Scout on his resume, and it would help him find a job. He told me that employers care about those things. I just nodded. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it didn't matter. Steve's an Eagle Scout and I seriously doubt that any employer gave a crap about that. The rules have changed, and my friend has no idea what the new rules are. Hell, I'm not sure what the new rules are.