Why David Beats Goliath

In a recent piece in The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell combines the tales of a high school basketball team, King David and Lawrence of Arabia to explore how and why underdogs beat favourites:

“And it happened as the Philistine arose and was drawing near David that David hastened and ran out from the lines toward the Philistine,” the Bible says. “And he reached his hand into the pouch and took from there a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead.” The second sentence—the slingshot part—is what made David famous. But the first sentence matters just as much. David broke the rhythm of the encounter. He speeded it up. “The sudden astonishment when David sprints forward must have frozen Goliath, making him a better target,” the poet and critic Robert Pinsky writes in “The Life of David.” Pinsky calls David a “point guard ready to flick the basketball here or there.” David pressed. That’s what Davids do when they want to beat Goliaths.

Every time I read Gladwell’s work now, I’m reminded of his admission about his storytelling technique:

Now, those of you who are familiar with my writing will know that this practice of talking about X by discussing Y is my only rhetorical move.

There’s also a wonderful piece by Adam Gopnik (probably my favourite magazine writer) about razors and innovation in that issue. Unfortunately, it’s not online, but it’s in the May 11th issue, should you get your hands on a copy.


  1. I heard Gladwell tell this story at the recent RIM/BlackBerry WES event in early May, where Gladwell was one of the keynotes. It was a real pleasure to hear him tell the story in person, and it definitely was bang on. Cool stuff.

  2. When I was walking the Hadrian’s Wall Path last summer, I learned that the various Roman forts along the wall had large doors facing towards the enemy — probably for a similar reason: when the enemy appeared, the Romans would rush out to engage them.

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