David and Goliath: Overcoming the Odds

Cartoon David and Goliath

Like many business executives I know, I eagerly devoured Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. The book focuses on the opportunities to succeed that emerge from seemingly insurmountable limitations. “Giants are not what we think they are,” he writes. “The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often sources of great weakness.” Well, it’s easy to use the book as a primer for how to succeed against bigger competitors, but I got something different out of David and Goliath. To me, the book offers a lesson on how we can overcome obstacles to any challenge in business, whether you’re trying to produce a successful event or create a communications program.
The fields of business and creativity have produced many stories of people who turned overwhelming obstacles into opportunities to succeed. Steve Jobs famously turned a defeat, his temporary ouster from Apple, into a victory when he re-channeled his energies into helping to save an obscure company known as Pixar. Producer Matthew Weiner has said that a limited budget forced him to be more creative in the use of costumes and set designs for Mad Men, which resulted in a more authentic look and feel for the successful show. Jobs, Weiner, and visionaries like them have not only stared down defeat but also turned setbacks into opportunities. Here is what the “David” in these situations typically does to slay his own “Goliath” (or obstacles):

  • Be resourceful. Learn how to do more with less (budget, staff, etc.). Being resourceful means, for instance, asking those around you to grow into larger roles that perhaps they or you did not foresee at first — which can be good for everyone.
  • Be creative. The great artists especially know how to turn limitations into strengths. Johnny Cash turned the limited guitar playing style of himself and his bandmates into a strength by creating memorable, simple riffs.
  • Embrace conflict — don’t run with it. Sometimes you need to embrace tension to produce results.
  • Be open-minded to different approaches. Sometimes the answer to overcoming an obstacle comes from advice from unexpected quarters. Be open-minded and listen.
  • Be bold. Don’t let a challenge paralyze you.

How have you defeated your own “Goliath”? I’d like to know.

This post was originally published on the One Smooth Stone blog on April 3, 2014. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing bduffy@onesmoothstone.com


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