1) Way too long - what should I focus on cutting?
2) Needs better conclusion
Critical Summary Working Draft
Malcom Gladwell insists that you reevaluate a deeper meaning behind the story of David and Goliath – not just to reconsider the implications of the tale, but to dissect it with deeper study and knowledge more than an average non-historian may have. In his New Yorker published article, “How David Beat Goliath” he employs this primarily with several examples, loosely strung together but discussed in-depth to juxtapose his point.
He begins by describing software firm business owner Vivek Ranadive’s style of coaching his twelve-year-old daughter’s basketball team. This is the overlying example that he will use as a metaphor and string throughout his article. Ranadive is foreign to the sport of basketball and finds it ridiculous that the majority of the court is barely used in preference to the time-honored, choreographed plays that everyone adheres to. His business model of using real-time software is discussed thoroughly and compared to his coaching method. Gladwell also cites political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft’s studies in the winners of David and Goliath style battles of history, mostly applied to Lawrence of Arabia’s “ragtag” army at the end of the First World War and his method of attack the Ottoman Empire. Instead of attacking where the Turks expected them to, they came in from the east through an unprotected desert to ultimately win the battle. Also discussed are a basketball game played between the Fordham University Rams and the University of Massachusettes Rams in 1971 and a computer scientist involved in a programed war game. He ends the essay with an anecdote about a time Ranadive’s team felt pressured into stopping their full press maneuver to appease the “Goliaths” who found it unfair.
While I generally agree with the idea Gladwell is making, I find that his method in relaying it to his audience is unclear, broad, and a bit of a mess.
Gladwell’s purpose is a little hard to find among all the examples his article is made up of. It is there, however, sprinkled about and not made clear in a thesis-like manner. The first part of his point is found on page two when he states, “David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids when all the time.” On page four, tucked into a larger anecdote, he writes, “David can beat Goliath by substituting effort for ability – and substituting effort for ability turns out to be a winning formula for all walks of life.” This is a point that I feel better encompasses his entire purpose of the essay, however “effort” is not as often revisited as his idea of “insurgence” for being able to have the upperhand against Goliaths. There is little to no expression of the question, and what there is does not do justice to the complexity of the matter at hand. Finally all the way on page thirteen, he states “Insurgents work harder than Goliath.” While this point is up to opinion, it seems pretty vital to his overall thesis and should have been more prevalent in his article.
The best evidence or experiences that Gladwell cites are perhaps the actual political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft and his Lawrence of Arabia example. Arreguin-Toft “recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 percent of the cases … when the underdogs acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy … David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6.” (Gladwell, pg. 2, 2009) It’s hard to argue against cold hard facts and an in-depth analysis of Lawrence of Arabia’s strategy, especially when Lawrence wrote it all down.
The “batch” computer programing sidetrack concerning Ranadive seems like a big stretch and an unnecessary side step. Taking over two full pages to be described, the only connection made to the insurgent planning of underdogs to Ranadive’s software operating major companies in real time is that they operate in “real time”, just as David sped up instead of meeting Goliath’s match. But surely one can argue that being insurgent doesn’t always call for speed and lightning fast thinking – the carefully planned and heavily practiced full court press technique Ranadive describes contradicts that immediately. The toiling upon Ranadive’s profession in order to connect his way of thinking to the team seemed unnecessary, unclear, and insignificant.
The war games competitor Doug Lenat’s example hold up against the point of the article either. It is pointed out by Gladwell himself that in order for the man’s program to win, it had to kill a few fleets of its own – in a game this is fine, but in war and other riskier “battles” it doesn’t always work out. Gladwell doesn’t seem to consider this at all, otherwise praising Lenat for being insurgent and condemning those who kicked him out of further competitions all in the name of “challenging conventions” and “hard working”, though it really isn’t implied that Lenat worked any harder than any of his competitor’s, but rather approached it differently.
The basketball examples are the easiest to understand - though drawn out – and they do prove his point better than the others. However, it’s a strange way to focus on a certain technique being (in the full court press Ranadive coaches) so closely aligned with David when it is surely not as infallible as he makes it sound. When describing the usage in a 1971 college game that impressed coaches and players alike, he even they simply “didn’t learn” (10) or didn’t have the guts to continually try this technique. Surely professionals probably understood the risks at hand – even Coach Pitino says “They don’t know if they have the bench. They don’t know if their players can last” (12). Considering the constant movement of this play, these seem like pretty justifiable reasons.
This is especially evident to me when Gladwell ends the article describing an encounter with Ranadive’s team. Parents complained and fought against their technique, and the refs decided to call their “aggressive defense” fouls. “Ranadive called the press off. He had to … they played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played, and they lost – but not before making Goliath wonder whether he really was a giant, after all.” Not every ref will be the same, and even if it seems unfair and actually is, it is something to consider when coaching. The parents complain that “the point of basketball … was to learn basketball skills.” The only response Gladwell has to that is “Of course, you could as easily argue that in playing the press a twelve-year-old girl learned something much more valuable – that effort can trump ability and that conventions are made to be challenged.” This I agree with very much, but I do not think that story shows that point well. The other team was probably making as much effort as they were – just because they had a different technique doesn’t mean they worked harder. Conventions are made to be challenged, but it will not always work out that way for you. Wouldn’t it be a better “lesson” to teach the young girls to have a backup plan than to rely heavily on being insurgent to everyone’s expectations – Gladwell doesn’t seem to consider that Goliath will learn from insurgency and adjust to it in every single scenario he presents.
Overall I feel that Gladwell needed either better or less examples, because the complexity of each scenario has a facet that may negate a point he is trying to make about the David and Goliath story. Personally I feel that he did a better job in his TED talk by picking apart the story itself rather than basing them on such specific examples. It is not only easier to understand but doesn’t distort the meaning when applied to real life scenarios that have many factors involved. Perhaps it would have held up better if Gladwell spent any time addressing potential arguments against his ideas, but he did not. In fact, the way he writes off any argument makes his inferences and line of reasoning incredibly hard to follow. Just given the several scenarios supplied without their individual connection to his theory about WHY David beats Goalith, it would be very hard to surmise on your own. He does very little to help in that department.
What works against Gladwell the most and ties in with his poor line of reasoning and lack of clarity are the strange assumptions he makes throughout without providing how he came to the conclusion. Assuming that the Davids of the world work harder than the Goliaths just because they’re attempting a different tactic is silly. You can work your fingers to the bone and still fail no matter how hard you work, even with a significant amount of skill. He also seems to imply throughout the article that unconventional strategies always work. Assuming that practiced and professional basketball players and coaches see the full court pass strategy and simply refuse to do it for no good reason is also nonsense. And strangest of all, the paragraph detailing Ranadive’s team playing against an all-black school and quoting him as saying “I think he couldn’t stand it because here were all these blond-haired girls who were clearly inferior players, and we were killing them” (15). Surely race isn’t an issue with any other school being angry at the Redwood City team, and I found this a bizarre inclusion.
While I do agree with Gladwell’s core idea that effort and cleverness makes a world of difference in an underdog scenario, his assumptions, examples, and inferences are vast and bizarre. They take away from his message and leave you a little confused and wading through murky water. Why is developing an insurgent plan considered smarter or harder working than the people who play by the typical rules? Why does Gladwell seem to think this is the only way a David can beat a Goliath? Why not consider long-running battles where the Goliath learns from the David’s technique and adjusts themselves accordingly? Why is considering a different way to win exclusive to underdogs? Where Gladwell ends his article saying that Goliath should be left to wonder if he was a giant at all, I will end by wondering if it’s so easy to beat Goliath with a simple mixture of luck and cleverness, how can they still be considered Davids?