Gladwell does it again
Malcolm Gladwell is a masterful storyteller and has a knack of putting things in a totally different perspective. His Tipping point was a classic on how little things can make a huge difference, Blink explained the power of thinking without thinking and Outliers changed the way we view success. He has done it again with David and Goliath. It was a thoroughly interesting read and here are the highlights
PART ONE: THE ADVANTAGES OF DISADVANTAGES (AND THE DISADVANTAGES OF ADVANTAGES)
Here Gladwell explains that what we think is an advantage may not be so. For example he tells the story of Caroline Sacks who gets into a great university only to find out that she is totally at sea since everyone there is better than her which shattered her confidence. Caroline Sacks was experiencing what is called “relative deprivation” a term coined by the sociologist Samuel Stouffer. Bottom line is it is better to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond than a small fish in a very big pond. The lesson is to think twice before you think the best colleges are always the best solutions.
Another theory is that smaller classes are always better. Gladwell however argues that this is not necessarily the case. The ideal class size is 18. For example if we have too few students then there may be lesser interactions and lesser peer to peer interactions which are necessary for struggling students to learn from better students.
There is also a discussion on the inverted U curve. Inverted-U curves have three parts, and each part follows a different logic. There’s the left side, where doing more or having more makes things better. There’s the flat middle, where doing more doesn’t make much of a difference. And there’s the right side, where doing more or having more makes things worse. An example provided is if your salary goes beyond 75000$ then your happiness does not increase proportionally. In other words an annual salary of 75000$ is the tipping point beyond which happiness doesn't increase and declines in some cases.
There is also a story about Vivek Ranadivé who hadn't even played basketball before which we would normally consider as a disadvantage when running a basketball team. Since he didn't have any hang-ups about how the game should be played he encouraged his team of girls to do a full court press (which was totally unconventional) all the time and it was a success with the team winning many games reaching the national championships. The other principle he followed was he would speak calmly and softly.
The main lesson from this part is the underdogs have a better chance of winning if they adopt unconventional tactics and surprise the Goliaths of this world.
PART TWO: THE THEORY OF DESIRABLE DIFFICULTY
The chapter I liked in this section was about people with dyslexia. An example provided is David Boies who became a great lawyer in spite of this. He became very successful by becoming an absolutely great listener. All people with handicaps actually develop specific skills to overcome that.
Capitalization learning is where we get good at something by building on the strengths that we are naturally given but compensation learning is tougher. Here you excel at something that is tougher and goes against your natural instinct.
Richard Branson is another famous dyslexic who became an outstanding success.
There is also a chapter on the American civil rights movement and I found that to be interesting.
The main lesson from this part is what we believe is a disadvantage like dyslexia can actually turn out to be an advantage if you engage in compensatory learning and develop terrific skills to compensate for your perceived disadvantage.
PART THREE: THE LIMITS OF POWER
This part provides examples of the situation in Northern Ireland where at the beginning of 1970, that Easter, there was a riot in Ballymurphy and the British Army was called in.
The principle of legitimacy is defined here and it is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice—that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.
The main lesson from this part is that what we perceive as power may not necessarily be true like the British thought they were establishing order in Northern Ireland but it didn't turn out as expected.
There were many examples in the book which were eye opening and educative. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Gladwell’s view of the world and cannot wait to see what his next book turns out to be about.