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:
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