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Book Summary: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell | Forces of Habit

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

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The Essence

The conventional wisdom underlying what we identify as advantages and disadvantages are not for everyone. To beat the Goliath’s (giants), the David’s (underdogs) can choose to play by a different set of rules. Once the underdogs realize it is the perspective that they take that impacts the outcome, obstacles, weakness, and adversity become the tools that breed strength, resilience, and grit.

David and Goliath Summary Journal Entry:

This is my book summary of David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. My notes are a reflection of the journal write up above. Written informally, the notes contain a mesh of quotes and my own thoughts on the book. The Journal write up also includes important messages and crucial passages from the book.

  • “Underdogs win all the time, but the strategies they use will be hard.”
  • Giants are not always what they seem. Many advantages are shrouds for the large weaknesses they hold. 
  • Inverted U-Curve: A model that helps us conceptualize that too much can be a bad thing.
    • Left Side: Doing more or having more makes things better.
    • Middle: Doing more does not make much of a difference.
    • Right Side: Doing more or having more makes things worse.

Inverted U

  • Nearly everything of consequence follows the inverted U.
  • Relative Deprivation: our impressions are not formed globally, but by placing ourselves in local categories that we compare excessively to people in similar areas or circumstances.
  • Big Fish Little Pond Effect
    • Entering an environment that disenfranchises your abilities to compete due to such large disparities in ability
    • Great students can develop fixed mindsets through comparison with students way out of their league (the big fish).
    • If a student would attend a smaller institution (little pond) where they can be given the proper attention and not be debilitated via comparison with the superstars, they can thrive, and even achieve more than the big fish.
  • Having peers who outperform you by large deviations will make you feel dumb.
  • Desirable Difficulty: not all difficulties are negative.
  • Putting deliberate emphasis on a skill can make other disabilities that would normally be cues for failure meaningless.
  • “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
  • "Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all”
  • Many successful entrepreneurs have undesirable predispositions that ultimately become the reasons for great success; they must work harder, and this hard work pays off.
  • Remote Misses: those who have endured and survived a trauma have experienced a liberating effect.
  • Difficulties are paradoxically a desirable outcome. We must recognize the freedom that comes from high-risk situations. A man with nothing to lose is a man that isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
  • Learning how to deal with failure prepares you for a career in business.
  • Disobedience can be a response to authority.
  • Principles of Legitimacy: People in Authority desire those being ruled to behave. What they miss is that how they behave will indicate how the subjugated respond to the power.
    • The people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice.
    • The law has to be predictable: Reasonable expectations that ensure what is the law today will be the law tomorrow.
    • Authority has to be fair: No coalitional favorites.
  • Todd Clear — indirect effect of prison on crime is an example of how power must be seen as legitimate or else its use has the opposite intended effects
    • If you lock up too many people far too long, the damage will outweigh the benefits (Inverted U curve at work here).

David and Goliath Quote

Reading Recommendations

If you liked what you saw. Here are 3 titles that I recommend based on what is discussed in David and Goliath.

  1. Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
  3. How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life By Thomas Gilovich

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