Can Underdogs Triumph? We Need More of Them To – (Reflecting on Gladwell’s David and Goliath)


I watched the 60 Minutes segment on Malcolm Gladwell on Sunday:  Malcolm Gladwell, The Power of the Underdog.. It was a repeat segment – and it was the second time I watched it.

This time, I had a new thought.

David and Goliath, GladwellFirst, remember the name of his latest book — David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. Here’s a brief excerpt from the book:

And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable .

Here’s my new thought. We really need more underdogs to triumph — for the good of society overall.

The fact is that the underdog usually loses. Badly. And the book does not sugarcoat this. The heroes of his story are exceptions, not the rules. The average person with dyslexia does not do well. The average girls basketball team with a non-athletic dad coach does not come up with a winning formula. The average person whose dad dies while the person is still a young child does not go on to accomplish greatness with breakthroughs in medicine. The average college student in a less than stellar university has a life-time of average accomplishment.

The list of the “average bad outcomes” in the midst of setbacks and adversity is a very long one. Underdogs are underdogs for a reason. They are not expected to win, or even do well, because the giants – those more accomplished, with more skills, and more connections, and more… — are expected to win the big ones.

But, we need to help up the game for as many underdogs as possible. The better more people do, the better we will all do.

One area where we see this is education. The underdogs – the students who start out in poverty, or from some form of “broken home,” or with parents who have little education, or do not value education… these students are genuine underdogs. They start out behind and they stay behind pretty much for a lifetime. Anything we can do to give just a few of them the skills of David to battle their Goliaths will help them, and help us all.

In the book The Second Machine Age, we learn that it is increasingly becoming a winner takes all society. Though speaking of the “digital market,” this idea has transferable implications. From the book:

Suddenly the top-quality provider can capture the whole market. The next-best provider might be almost as good, but it will not matter. Each time a market becomes more digital, these winner-take-all economics become a little more compelling…. Digitization creates winner-take-all markets.

I’ve done a little speaking for the Momentous Institute in Dallas. They are “underdog central” in Dallas. Their school and therapy centers work with kids who are often starting behind due to poverty, toxic stress or trauma. The deck is stacked against many of them before day one. But the folks at this remarkable institute are turning some underdogs into pretty accomplished giant slayers.

scyfc-ctoweblogo2014And, as importantly, they understand that the underdogs outnumber the giants. So, now for the third year in a row, they are hosting their Changing the Odds Conference. The keynote speaker: Malcolm Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell will talk about underdogs and their battles with giants.

Not all underdogs can slay those giants. They are underdogs, after all. But, if the odds can be changed, a few more of them might have a better shot. There may be no work more important than helping them get that better shot.

Our society needs a lot of them to succeed.

2 thoughts on “Can Underdogs Triumph? We Need More of Them To – (Reflecting on Gladwell’s David and Goliath)

  1. Thank you, Mr. Mayeux, for the nod to Momentous Institute. I am incredibly fortunate to be a teacher at this “underdog central.” Funny, really, given that I am an underdog…or was. Maybe that’s why I am so passionate about changing to odds for families; why I am so passionate about sharing what works; and why I am eternally grateful for the Salesmanship Club and all our supporters. Changing the odds is possible in every educational context…it’s possible!

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