I so appreciate anyone who can look at a topic or story that we think we know and bring us to a new perspective of that story. Perhaps it is something that was cultivated in me. Learning the odd factoids and sharing them brought positive attention from my parents and teachers when I was young. I would eagerly await the late Paul Harvey’s daily sharing of “The Rest of the Story” to find out what really was behind so many things we took for granted.
Throughout David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell gives us the rest of the story behind a number of people, incidents, and events we think we know. And it is so hard for me not to spill the beans and talk about what we have wrong perceptions of – who were actually soldiers and what were actual weapons, how the media is more about creating a sensation than getting the participants right, how people with the best of intentions can do more damage than good when their “good intentions” are translated into real life and carried to their full extent rather than the ideals that their originators intended. Malcolm exposes how so often the sociological models used by “authorities” don’t take into account the human factor – where individuals and individual actions can radically change the outcomes in directions the intellectual planners never saw coming.
Malcolm Gladwell takes on the issues of how basketball is played, classroom sizes, choosing a college, dyslexia, the early years of childhood leukemia research, the civil rights movement, Northern Ireland, Three Strikes, and Le Chambon during World War II. Each section starts with an introduction of an individual who highlights each of these aspect in their role as an Underdog or Misfit and how they exemplified The Art of Battling Giants.
In each section we are introduced to the background story of an individual and how their situation highlights an aspect of being an underdog or misfit. Malcolm then breaks up their story within the section, using the portion of the overarching story that was shared to springboard into a discussion of what is working, or more often not working, in the situation presented. For me, this was where thing could get bogged down. Not because the information wasn’t pertinent, but because I am a casual reader of the subject and wanted to know the rest of the story for the individual originally introduced. Most chapters conclude celebrating how they conquered the giant they were battling. In the case of any exceptions, winning strategies for battling that specific giant are put forth.
I would strongly recommend Section Three – Carol Sacks “If I’d gone to the University of Maryland, I’d still be in science.” to every person considering where to go for college. Her story is one where she did not win the battle with her giant, but provides a lesson that every parent and college bound teen would be wise to study. Malcolm lays out an excellent argument that I saw played out in my own sons’ journey through their college experiences. The argument is that it is better mentally, emotionally, and even career-wise, to be a Big Fish in a Small Pond than to go to a prestigious school and be a Small Fish in that Big Pond. While going to that name school may look good on a resume, the internal damage could stop you from pursuing your passion.
An overarching theme for the book itself is the fact that these individuals did not look at what others would label “disabilities” or “disadvantages” in their lives and let that be their label, but each turned the lessons learned along the way of living different into advantages to battle the giants. By refusing to be defined by any perceived weakness, they conquered obstacles and have changed the way many of us live. I think this is best summed up in a quote in the book in the section on the London Blitz. Popular sociological models of the time suggested that the people of England would be so panic-stricken when the bombing started that there would be massive deaths, not necessarily from the bombs themselves, but from peoples’ reactions to the bombing. This was not the case, leading to the quote “Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and discovered they aren’t so tough after all.”
Thank you Malcolm for introducing us to some courageous individuals and giving us insights on how they were able to conquer their giants so we have vision and strategies for taking on some of our own.