Rethinking Underdogs

Maybe the underdog actually has the advantage. What if things aren’t always what they seem? What if an apparent disadvantage is actually a significant advantage? What if the easy route is not necessarily the most successful one? What if the powerful aren’t really as powerful as they seem? Those are some of the questions explored by Malcolm Gladwell in his recent book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. In it Gladwell investigates the stories of ten underdogs (including the Biblical narrative of David and his larger than life foe) and whether the lack of resources actually helped propel them to their unlikely success.

There’s the story of the 12 year old girl’s basketball team with almost no experience and even less skill who made it to their national finals by executing a relentless full court press…for the entire game…all year long. There’s the dyslexic attorney who because of an extreme difficulty with reading became a superb listener with a steel trap memory that has made him a formidable litigator. And of course, there’s the future king of Israel whose small size and lack of armor caused him to take a different (and extremely effective) approach to hand-to-hand combat with the Philistine champion.

The common thread of all these stories is that sometimes the underdog is really not the underdog at all…but they might be equipped with just the right skills to take down giants BECAUSE of the difficulties that they face. (Although in David’s case, I attribute most of his success to the fact that David did not come just “with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin” but as he said, “I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts.”)

That got me thinking about my own company and how some of the aspects of being a small business that may seem like disadvantages have actually turned out to be very effective advantages. For example, since I don’t have a large staff (apparent disadvantage), I partner with other local firms that have focused specialties and experience well beyond what I can provide. As it turns out, this allows me to be very agile with the types of projects I work on and helps me to efficiently manage my workload (very effective advantage).

Not having a signature corporate office complex means that I don’t get to impress current or potential clients when they come to meetings at my office (apparent disadvantage), but alternatively, I almost always go TO my clients, which not only is convenient for them, but keeps my overhead low so that I can pass those savings onto my clients (very effective advantage).

The list can go on…but I wonder about YOUR underdog advantages. Do you get discouraged with the challenges you face? If so, how can we think about those difficulties from a different perspective and see the many possibilities that are almost always present? What new approach can you take that would capitalize upon the very thing that you’ve always viewed as a limitation? Everybody loves an underdog story…what will yours be?

Ben

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