Malcolm Gladwell: Disability can be a great advantage

DisabilityEver since I read Malcolm Gladwell’s breakthrough book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, I’ve been unable to resist any new book from this most devilishly clever of nonfiction writers. Gladwell’s mind doesn’t seem to work the way mine does, and, unless you’re remarkably eccentric, I suspect the same could be said of you.


David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

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David and Goliath is an excellent case in point. You might assume, as I so naturally did, that the Biblical tale of David and Goliath illustrates how the weak can overcome the strong. Certainly, that was how I was taught it as a child, and nothing I’ve learned since has led me to think otherwise. Leave it to Malcolm Gladwell to demonstrate that in reality this oft-told story demonstrates precisely the opposite. According to Gladwell (and to the numerous academic researchers whose work he cites), Goliath was massively vulnerable — in large part precisely because he was truly a giant — and David possessed an enormous advantage in his own right from the moment he walked onto the field of battle. The outcome of the battle was foreordained. Goliath’s great strength was in fact no advantage at all.

In this out-of-left-field manner, Gladwell draws diverse examples from all over the map to illustrate his principal points: overwhelming power can easily prove to be a disadvantage, while disability and weakness can lead to surprising success. Gladwell writes about how dyslexia has proven to be the hidden key to success among a great many highly successful people, including such notables as Richard Branson and Charles Schwab. Other examples in David and Goliath include the coach of an untalented middle-school girls’ basketball team who led them to a national championship by virtue of a strategy born of his ignorance of basketball, to K-12 teachers who demonstrate how small classes can be disadvantageous and big classes sometimes much better, to the British troops sent to quell the Irish Troubles, only to discover that their exercise of power backfired horribly.

David and Goliath is endlessly fascinating. It’s fully worthy of Malcolm Gladwell’s outstanding talent to illuminate our world in surprising ways.

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