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David and Goliath : Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants – Book Review

An inspirational read

This is an inspiring read for anyone wishing to start a business or grow bigger. Malcolm Gladwell is staff writer on the New Yorker magazine and author of the best seller ‘Outliers – the anatomy of success’. He is also one of the most insightful people on the planet. And I’m working my way through all of his books 😉 The book reveals an armoury of ideas to help shift the balance of power from the minnows to the mighty.

The art of battling giants

While we all know that David did triumph over Goliath, the book is also heavy with facts. It also brings to life lots of unfamiliar aspects to this story!

Packed with insights

Did you also know?

That Richard Branson, one of the world’s wealthiest multi-billionaires is dyslexic? We’re treated to many examples of individual success that arose through personal disadvantage.

In a story about a US schoolgirl league basketball team that was light on skills, the coach equipped the team with disruptive tactics. Also a hard working ethic which therefore enabled them to beat better ranked opponents.

To raise awareness and gain public sympathy for the US civil rights movement, the organisers of an Alabama demonstration tricked the authorities into a confrontation. This led to lots of bad PR (and inspired a step change in support for the civil rights cause).

The Impressionist painters were originally refused access to the Paris Salon exhibitions of the day. So they started their own show. By creating a new pond in which to swim allowed them to be seen, and in turn, grow bigger.

Marketing Inspiration

By applying some of the themes in the book to businesses, here are a handful of lessons to help minnows triumph over the mighty:

  1. Competing on different terms, for example using different strengths, to your adversaries can provide an advantage.
  2. Sheer tenacity and drive can triumph over complacency or unwariness. Working harder can also be both a recipe and message for success (cf. ‘we try harder’ – Avis).
  3. Superior knowledge of your opponent provides an edge.
  4. Weaknesses are a source of hidden strength. Look hard to discover what they are.
  5. Avoid being hidebound by current industry conventions and think differently. In other words, ‘zig’ when everyone else is ‘zagging’. Virgin Atlantic, for example, was devised by a group of Virgin employees with no airline experience whatsoever. Thus this helped them establish a distinctive new offering.


Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013)

Guy is a leading UK marketing consultant with a background at major brands and in the media. He is Founder of The Marketing Directors, a successful research and marketing consultancy working with aspiring and global brands in the UK and beyond. He is co-author of The Marketing Director's Handbook with Tim Arnold.

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