AVI GVILI

Submitting Form...

The server encountered an error.

Form received.

  When is a disadvantage an advantage? When is our perception so off base that what we think helps us actually does the opposite? These are the some of the questions Malcolm Gladwell tries to answer in his new book, David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. In this short volume of insights dealing with human perception, Gladwell takes us through biblical history, educational controversy, and the thinking behind current crime fighting strategies in order to measure the accuracy of our thinking. Like Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile,” Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the  thesis that difficulty in many cases can a be a spur to growth, and that what is seen as a benefit is in actuality a limitation. Consider, for example, the biblical story of David & Goliath used for countless centuries as an example of an underdog defeating the stronger opponent through the use of a particular skill (and with the help of the god of the Tanach.) What if, as Gladwell explains, David was uniquely positioned to win such a battle, and that Goliaths size, due to a genetic disease, was the central factor in his defeat. “What the Israelites saw, from high on the ridge, was an intimidating giant. In reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness. There is an important lesson in that for battles with all kinds of giants. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem. David came running toward Goliath, powered by courage and faith. Goliath was blind to the approach—and then he was down, too big and slow and blurry-eyed to comprehend the way the tables had turned.”(p.14-15) That a certain difficulty is necessary in life is instinctually accepted by working people the world over. It is implied in the adage, Easy Come, Easy Go—if something comes too easily to a person then it will be less valued, and, thus, temporary.   Indeed Gladwell discusses the age old question fortunate parents have in leaving an inheritance—Will their children squander the money for which they have worked their whole life or will they put it to good use?  The answer Gladwell points to is, “Wealth contains the seeds of its own destruction.” (p.51) In all his books, Gladwell brings a researcher’s eye to the instinctual questions that seem to have common sense answers yet, upon closer inspection, yield surprising results. For example, he describes an experiment on difficulty in which scientists asked participants to take the CRT or Cognitive Reflection Test, a widely used intelligence test. In a novel approach called “disfluent,” the experimenters changed the font of the test to make it more difficult to read for half the participants. Surprisingly, those with the changed font actually scored higher on the CRT.  The reason, as the psychologist Adam Alter explains, is, “making the questions “disfluent” causes people to think more deeply about whatever they come across. …If they have to overcome a hurdle, they’ll overcome it better when you force them to think a little harder.” (p.105) Differently than Nassim Taleb, Gladwell discusses the subject of difficulty with greater humanity. He cites the experience of the NYC police dept. who drastically reduced juvenile crime in Brownsville, Brooklyn by reaching out to parents and their kids with kindness and good will. (pgs. 215-217) Here Malcolm Gladwell differentiates between the difficulty of poverty and entrenched joblessness and the difficulty that is necessary if we are to grow as thriving human beings.  David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of battling Giants is a worthwhile read because it deals with a philosophical question with which everyone is concerned—Do I need a certain type of difficulty in my life to become more of who I want to be?  Turns out, the answer is yes.