Today we’re going to learn from Malcolm Gladwell and some of his best advice from David and Goliath.
What’s up Believe Nation it’s Evan. My one word is believe and I believe that you have the ability to create something special that will change the planet. So to help you on your journey I started the Mentor Me series. And the goal here is to try to hang around people who’ve done a lot more than us, who’ve achieved massive success, and hopefully by hanging around them a little bit longer some of their mindsets, their attitudes, their beliefs, the way they see the world will seep into us to help us become the best version of ourselves. So Mentor me Malcolm.
How to Win as an Underdog
#1: Refuse To Give Up
I arrived at the idea for the book because I had done this piece for The New Yorker some years ago called How David Beats Goliath about a guy out in California who coached his daughter’s 12-year-old basketball team all the way to the National Championships.
Even though they were a group entirely without talent or skill, and he did it by, for those of you who are basketball fans, by playing the full court press every minute of every game. A really, really, really radical form of the full court press, the most aggressive form you can.
And I just thought that story was hilarious, but also really interesting because I loved the way in which he refused to give up. So here was, he was a guy who knew nothing about basketball, coaching a team of girls without any obvious skills in the area.
And the normal response of people in those situations is either to say it’s pointless, and lose by 30 points a game. Or to try desperately to play by the rules of everyone else, like to play the way everyone else is playing, and try and catch up which would be impossible in a season.
And he chose option C which was to hell with it. Let’s play in this way that’s so deeply subversive that, you know, the other team isn’t going to know what hit them. And that story just stayed with me and I thought it would be really fun to write a book about those kinds of strategies.
#2: Embrace Adversity
So there’s this really interesting fact that a very large percentage, a much larger percentage of successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic than in the general population. And many of the Richard Branson, Paul Orfalea, Charles Schwab, John Chambers at Cisco.
I could go on, Craig McCaw, the cellphone pioneer. The list of these guys are all dyslexic. Right? David Neeleman at JetBlue. And if you talk to them they will explain to you that they don’t think they succeeded in spite of their disability, they think they’d succeeded because of it.
For them, and if you want, I sat down with two dozen of these guys. I got sort of obsessed at the beginning of my book, in the middle of my book with talking to dyslexic entrepreneurs, and their stories are all the same.
They all look back and will tell you, “You know if it hadn’t have been for the fact “that I couldn’t read or read well in second, and third, “and fourth grade I would never have,” And they start listing all the things they were forced to do that proved to be ultimately advantageous. “I would never have learned how to listen.” “I would never have been forced, “in second grade I made friends with the smartest kid “in the class, and I basically convinced him “to do my homework for me.”
I can’t tell you how many times I heard that from these people. So what are they learning at that age? They’re learning delegation, they’re learning how to communicate with other people, motivate other people, form a team.
Brian Grazer, the Hollywood producer who’s dyslexic, his whole thing was he would fail his tests, and he would go in and he would talk his grade up from a D to a C. So from the age of this high, he’s learning negotiation, right?
By the end by the time he hits college he’s brilliant at it. And then what did he do? He becomes a Hollywood producer. What is that about? It’s about negotiation among other things. And he’s been practicing his entire life.
So there’s this weird thing where he would say, “As difficult as my dyslexia was,” and for all of these people they’re childhoods were not fun. I mean, I interviewed Gary Cohn who’s the president of Goldman, who’s profoundly dyslexic. And his childhood just sounds, I mean dark and miserable.
No one thought he was capable of doing schoolwork. They thought he was, they were amazed that he could graduate from high school. Despite that they all look back and they say, “You know, it was a desirable difficulty. “I was forced to learn stuff “I would never even have thought about.”
In order to learn the things that really need to be learned, we require a certain level of adversity. The trick is figuring out what that adversity ought to look like, right? And that’s like I said something that can only be decided on a case by case basis. It’s going to be different for you than it is for me.
#3: Have the Courage to pursue your Idea
It’s not enough to have a great idea, and the focus, and the conscientiousness to see it to fruition. You must have the strength, and the resolve, and the courage to pursue that idea even when the rest of the world thinks you’re insane, right?
Time and time again if you look at the stories of extraordinarily important entrepreneurs, there is almost always a moment when they are the only ones who believe in the value of what they’re doing.
You know, I tell in my book, my book David and Goliath, the story of Ingvar Kamprad, the guy who founds IKEA. And the crucial moment in the story of IKEA is when he faces a boycott from the other furniture manufactures in Sweden and he’s about to go out of business.
And in desperation he moves his operations across the Baltic Sea from Sweden to Poland and sets up shop in Poland. And that’s what IKEA is. IKEA is essentially furniture shipped flat made in Poland. That’s the original elevator pitch for IKEA.
What’s interesting about that is he does it in 1961 at the height of the Cold War. At a time when East and West, communist world and free world are closer to outright war than at any other time in history, a guy living in the West, Sweden, crosses the pond to Poland, the Iron Curtain and sets up shop.
You can not imagine what a controversial move that was. That would be like Walmart opening operations in North Korea, literally, it’s on that level of kind of eyebrow raising, “you’ve got to be kidding me, “who is this guy,” kind of thing.
But he does it, and he persists, and he turns his back on all those critics. Why? Because he is a deeply disagreeable person. Didn’t need people to agree with him, right? And that’s how he’s able to build IKEA into this extraordinary runaway success story. That’s very hard to do, as human beings we are hardwired to want the approval of our peers.
#4: Shift Your thingking
I retell the story of David and Goliath to start the book. Because if you look at the story closely everything you think was a disadvantage about David actually isn’t and Goliath is not what he looks like. He looks like this indomitable giant, in fact, he probably had a medical condition called acromegaly which is, it’s just sort of a side thing.
It is hilarious because the minute you start digging into these things you discovery these little pockets have been arguing about these things for years. For 50 years endocrinologists have been arguing about whether Goliath had a tumor on his pituitary gland which would explain is height. Because when you have a tumor on your pituitary gland you overproduce human growth hormone.
But one of the side effects is that it can constrict your optic nerves and leave you largely with very, very limited eyesight. So one of the explanations for why Goliath behaved so strangely and why he doesn’t perceive that David is not intending to fight him.
I mean, David comes down the mountain, and he’s got no sword and no armor. He clearly is not intending to fight a sword fight, and Goliath just sits there like he’s oblivious. Well, the answer is, maybe he can only see this far, right?
So it changes everything when you realize, wait a minute, the giant is weighed down by 100 pounds of armor and can’t see anything. He’s like, like this, right? So, anyway, I do more with that story. But it’s all about this, trying to get people to take a step back and understand that we can give up or feel powerless because we have these empty definitions, or flawed definitions of advantage.
#5: Try a New Approach
If you’ve read, you know, Innovator’s Dilemma, that’s what Innovator’s Dilemma is all about, right? The disruptive outsider is the one who is incapable of meeting the marketplace needs as the market is traditionally defined.
They can’t do it, right, so what do they do? They try a completely new half-assed approach which in the beginning doesn’t work, right? But by that very nature of trying something completely outside the mainstream they end up upending the … Were they any good they would never be forced to do that. So it’s the same kind of principle.
#6: Have faith
Interviewer: Nobody who is talking about your book in the mainstream media is mentioning the element. You say that there are three things, it’s faith, courage, and determination. Nobody’s talking about faith.
It’s an odd thing, I mean, this book began as, I just wanted in the manner of my previous books to do this kind of, use a lot of social science, work through theories, tell some stories about the fact that disadvantages are often advantageous, and advantages can be.
But by the end of the book I realized that what I really wanted to talk about was faith, was about the weapons of the spirit. I have a chapter where I talk about this little town in the mountains of France.
During this, it was a bunch of huguenots, a dissident Protestant sect in a very Catholic country up in the mountains. During the Second World War they decided they were going to harbor any Jewish refugees that came to their door.
And the Jewish refugees came by the thousands. They took them in and they told the Nazis, “We’re taking them in, if you want to come “and get them we’re not going to give them to you. “We don’t care what you do to us.”
It’s this extraordinary story, and if you read into it they had nothing. They had no resources, no weapons. They refused to lie, so they weren’t using deceit. All they had was their faith, and that was enough.
They felt that their faith was every bit the match for whatever the Nazis threw at them. And you can not, I don’t care if you are the most dyed in the wool atheist, you can not read that story and not come away with a renewed appreciation for the power that faith gives people.
Thank you guys so much, I hope you enjoyed. I’d love to know what did you learn from this article that you’re going to immediately apply somehow to your life or your business. What was the single most important lesson that you learned? Leave it down in the comments below, I’m really curious to find out.
I also want to give a quick shoutout to Dave Gardner. Dave, thank you so much for picking up a copy of my book, Your One Word, and for doing that YouTube review on it. I really, really, really appreciate the support. And I’m so glad that you enjoyed the book.
So thank you guys again. I believe in you, and I hope you continue to believe in yourself and whatever your one word is. Much love, I’ll see you soon.
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