2 min read

📚 David vs. Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell

David vs Goliath
David vs Goliath

The narrative of David vs. Goliath has been constantly used to describe how startups and industries interact with each other. Startups being frail but smart and nimble and industrials being powerful but slow-moving. You know the story.

In 2013, I was reading the latest Malcolm Gladwell book on this very subject. Biased and stuffed with too many self-serving examples, the book was…not very impressive. That being said, the key example of David vs. Goliath, which was introducing the book, was compelling. Gladwell was making the point that David winning  « against all odds » was misguided.

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 light to be fast but to be uniquely focused on a clear job to be done. If the focus is to kill from a distance, then yes, they will be light and equipped with a sling, not a mace or a sword. On the unique value they have to innovate on, they should give no chance to larger competitors.

That’s one of the reason I always cringe when I hear innovation teams speaking of « minimum viable products » whereas they should maybe speak of « maximal focus »products:

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, in « David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants », 2013

Or if you prefer: