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Malcolm Gladwell cheers on the underdog in ‘David and Goliath’

Oct 9, 2013

aac193f7f7 69804 small Malcolm Gladwell cheers on the underdog in David and Goliath  photo

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell attends Tropfest New York 2013, the world’s largest short film festival, at Prospect Park on June 22 in Brooklyn. ; Credit: Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tropfest

Malcolm Gladwell cheers on the underdog in this new book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

Many are familiar with the David and Goliath legend, but Gladwell goes deeper and looks at the balance between the weak and the powerful. Using examples from sports, business, politics and history Gladwell looks at what makes someone a success.

RELATED: Read an excerpt of Gladwell’s latest book

Sometimes what appears to be a disadvantage can actually work in our favor. Gladwell tackles the classic small fish in a big pond  that delves more in the musing of human behavior.

Interview Highlights:

On why he chose the title “David and Goliath” for this book:
“I start by retelling that story and pointing out that the sling that David was armed with was a devastating weapon. In ancient times it was a crucial part of the arsenal of a typical army. The rock that he projected at Goliath’s forehead would have had the stopping power of a .45 caliber handgun. Viewing it through that lens you realize we might have dramatically overestimated the odds against David. He wasn’t quite the underdog he seemed like he was.”

On our skewed view of what constitutes an advantage and a disadvantage:
“I feel like we have a set of categories for what we consider to be an advantage and what we consider to be a disadvantage. And those categories aren’t terribly sophisticate. There are lots of things that have far more complex effects on our lives and out success than we imagine.”

On how having a disability can actually be an advantage:
“There is this fascinating fact that if you look at groups of successful entrepreneurs or innovators, you will find a disproportionate number of dyslexics in their midst. I sat down with countless number s of people who have been very successful in their fields who have dyslexia to ask them, ‘Did you succeed in spite of your disability or because of it,’ and every one of them said because of the disability. In other words, these were people who, because they could not read easily were forced to develop other skills and try other strategies that proved to be more advantageous in terms of their careers.”

On whether we overvalue prestige:
“There’s a chapter of the book where I try and figure out whether we overvalue things like prestige, particularly when we make choices about where to go to college. I was interested in people looking to get a science and math degree, because one of the things we’ve observed with people who try and get science and math degrees is a large number of them drop out. About 50 percent of students who start in science and math drop out in college. The questions is who drops out and why. 

“The answer is that people drop out of science and math not as a function of their intellectual ability, but of a function of their relative intellectual ability. The kids who drop out are overwhelmingly in the bottom half of their class regardless of what school they go to…what that says is when you go to the best college you got into and you want to do science and math you run a risk. The better the school is the greater the chance that you might finish in the bottom half.” 

On why our views of prestige are important:
“This is the kind of conversation I think people need to have and aren’t. They need to weigh the value of the prestige of an Ivy League school against the fact that it may make it more difficult for them to get the degree they want. 

“In today’s job market, a degree in science and math is just about the most important thing you can have, so I’d say right now having a science degree from a less selective school is probably worth more than not having a science degree from a more selective school…My point is we have to have that kind of conversation where we understand that prestige is not a simple and unalloyed good it has side effects and downsides.”

Guest:

Malcolm Gladwell, Author, “Outliers: The Story of Success,” “The Tipping Point” and “David and Goliath”

 Malcolm Gladwell cheers on the underdog in David and Goliath  photo

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