How not to be the underdog

How do the underdogs of the world like David beat a giant like Goliath? Goliath Is the Weak One

David-Goliath fights make good underdog stories, but we consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong.  Davids are only considered underdogs because we can’t see their strengths, like agility and accuracy, and Goliaths are the ones who are weak, as they are huge targets who are clumsy and slow. Some disadvantages are actually advantages; underdogs that “win” are never as outclassed as they initially seem.

Don’t Play By Goliath’s Rules

A David can beat a Goliath by not playing by Goliath’s rules. In warfare, that means using guerilla tactics. In basketball, that means playing a full-court press defense. The full-court press, usually a desperate late-game gambit, involves defending a team aggressively for the entire length of the court, as opposed to a more conventional half-court approach. A successful press hinges on athleticism and effort, and the tactic can be used to out-hustle a more talented opponent. Here are two examples: the Kentucky University teams under coach Rick Pitino and a Bay-Area 12-year-old girls team improbably contended for a championship.

MLK Was a David

Martin Luther King and other leaders were successful underdogs because they refused to engage with Goliath on Goliath’s terms. Bill Hudson’s image of Walter Gadsden, a Parker High School student who was grabbed by a police officer while a German Shepherd lunged at his stomach has always been misunderstood: the officer was trying to restrain his dogs while Gadsden was the aggressor. The picture, however, galvanized public opinion and led to widespread support of the protesters in Birmingham. That had always been the plan, and on that day the leaders of the civil rights movement were trying to get just such a photograph.

The “Big Fish in a Little Pond” Advantage

The conventional wisdom is that some universities are better academically than others. However, the quality of the school is less a predictor of individual success than individual merit is. The best students from mediocre schools almost always prove more successful than good students from the elite schools. This is because being a big fish in a little pond has significant advantages. Little ponds encourage individuality and innovation while also providing support and community. Being surrounded by the best students in a big pond can be discouraging much in the same way that being surrounded by happy people can exacerbate depression. This is why happier countries have higher suicide rates than unhappy countries.

Advantages Have a Tipping Point

For both Davids and Goliaths, advantages are rarely linearly related to success. That is, something beneficial is not beneficial ad infinitum. Most advantages have a middle point where they are most effective. Too much can be just as harmful as too little. Class size and income are factors that are universally considered advantages; but past a certain point and they become disadvantages. The optimal amount of students in a class is approximately 25; more than that, and students get less individual attention. However, less than 25 students in a class is too intimate for autonomy and too small to foster discussion. Likewise, parenting is most difficult for the very poor or very rich. The middle class are comfortable enough that they do not have to work at the expense of their parenting, but not so wealthy that their money makes it impossible to set limits.



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