Is It Time For An Unconventional Strategy?

I just read a very interesting article in The New Yorker called How David Beats Goliath. It looks at how underdogs (from basketball teams to Lawrence Of Arabia) can overcome a seemingly insurmountable enemy. Not surprisingly, I was drawn to the data that was mentioned in the article.

The article weaves in findings from research that examined 202 lopsided wars over the last 200 years. I used the data to create this graphic:

Underdogs Win Wars With Unconventional Strategies

My take: Wow! If this data is accurate, then it shows that underdogs have dramatically shifted their odds by changing the approach to battle. Here are a few lessons that companies can learn from this article:

  • Don’t attack a strong competitor head-on. Instead of playing the normal style of basketball against a highly talented UMass basketball team (lead by Dr. J), Fordham University used a full-court press to beat the heavily favored Redmen in 1971. Lesson: Find places where your competitors aren’t strong or aren’t prepared.
  • Take advantage of “conventional wisdom.” While combat was traditionally done with a sword, David recognized that he could not beat Goliath with that approach — so he used a sling and some stones. Lesson: You can often times anticipate how competitors will act or react.
  • Play to your strengths. When Lawrence of Arabia was charged with ovetaking the Turks, he took advantage of the strengths of his untrained, Bedouin fighters — endurance, knowledge of the country, and courage. He led them on a 600 mile loop to attack the Turks from an unprotected flank. This group of several hundred nomads ended up killing or capturing 1,200 Turks and lost only two men. Lesson: Develop a strategy that uses your strengths.

The bottom line: Davids can absolutely beat Goliaths

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

4 thoughts on “Is It Time For An Unconventional Strategy?”

  1. Great post Bruce. I often use the term “changing the game”, but it’s dead-on with your post. Smaller companies can compete with the larger ones, but they have to change the dynamic in which they compete. Rarely does it make sense to compete head-on with a larger competitor, that’s usually a recipe for disaster. Find something else to compete on and beat them at that – Change the Game!

  2. Hey ! I could not agree more. Be it Google, Dell or other ground breaking great corporations of today all took a different approach to the way conventional wisdom suggested and they were able succeed. This conclusion then is an endorsement for me for this fact.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.