The narrative of David vs. Goliath has been constantly used to describe how startups and industries interact with each other. Startups are frail but smart and nimble, and industrials are powerful but slow-moving, yada yada...
You know the story.
In 2013, I read the latest Malcolm Gladwell book on this subject. Biased and stuffed with too many self-serving examples, the book was…not very impressive. That being said, the way Gladwell frames the David vs. Goliath metaphor was compelling. Gladwell pointed out that David, the underdog, winning « against all odds » was BS.
David won because all the odds were on its side.
In his research, Gladwell explained that David was part of a specific type of military section of the time. Heavily trained and focused front-runners, attacking at range at the start of any engagement to powerfully whittle down opposing forces. David wasn’t lucky with his proverbial sling at escaping a sure death at the hands of Goliath. Goliath hadn’t a chance to begin with.
If you apply this updated metaphor of David vs. Goliath to prototyping new businesses as an industrial, investing in startups, or working with intrapreneurs, understand that the notions of agility and luck are also overrated. These scouting forces shouldn’t be designed to be just light and fast but to be uniquely focused on a specific mission. The metaphor of being in light armor (if any) and just equipped with a sling and a few stones has its limit. What should make them deadly to larger competitors is a unique focus on the elements of value they have to innovate on.
That’s one of the many reasons I always cringe when I hear innovation teams speaking of minimum viable products whereas they should maybe speak of maximal focus products.
The proverbial sling is not just an agile weapon.
It's the one that has the maximal efficiency in the given scenario:
David’s sling is a devastating weapon. It’s one of the most feared weapons in the ancient world. The stone that comes from his sling has the stopping power equivalent to a bullet from a .45 caliber pistol. – Malcom GLADWELL
Or, if you prefer: