So, I went old school and bought a book at the airport bookstore. I honestly can’t remember the last time I did that. Actually, I bought two books: Gladwell’s new David and Goliath, and the Steve Jobs biography, which I still haven’t read.
Side note: ever since I saw this Louis CK clip about people not being able to be away from their phone for 30 seconds, I think about it all the time. Every time I get on a plane and find myself fidgeting and making phantom phone grabs whie trying to get through that awful time between “the cabin door is closed” and “you may now use your portable electronic devices” I think about it.
Anyway, so I was on this flight, with no internet, and I started reading David and Goliath. Which, in typical Gladwell fashion, draws a bunch of seemingly counterintuitive connections around the idea of “advantages as disadvantages” and “disadvantages as advantages”. Showing us the limits of power, and in particular, the strength of creativity in face of power.
I must admit, I am kind of a sucker for pop social science (think: Freakanomics, Antifragile, Where Good Ideas Come From). I am always more on the “wow, that’s so right!” side of things, as opposed to the “OMG, that’s so obvious” side of things.
Being in the startup business (now), and coming from the open source software business (then) and the advocacy business (then), and as a disciple of Jane Jacobs and Holly White, you’d think I’d have a basic handle on this idea, as you could argue that it’s the single strand that runs through everything I’ve worked on for the past 15 years.
But still, I find it to be a really useful frame. I can’t tell you how many times in the past week the idea of “competing on a vector they can’t compete on” has come up. That is all about David and Goliath. If your competition is a super well-financed startup player, or an industry giant like Google, you can’t expect to take them head on, play them at their game, and win. You have to think about what you can do, that they can’t (or won’t) and press on that angle.
And, from more of a personal perspective: it’s easy to get hung up on present-day challenges (financial, family, social, safety, etc.). For instance, I’ve written before about growing up scared in NYC, and how that defined an era for me and left a big scar, but ultimately (I think) helped shape my perspective in a positive way. And there are plenty of other things I can think of that have been, and continue to be, hard.
So overall, I find the “disadvantages as advantages” frame to be super useful (critical, possibly), and will no doubt keep it in the back of my head for some time.