(Image taken from storybook with flag added.)
As children, we all grew up with the biblical story of David and Goliath. Of all the various stories from the bible, as a child, it was the one I’d read and reread over and over again. The story of the young boy defeating⎯against all odds⎯the massive giant, is a metaphor we adults apply today to business, warfare and obstacles of all kinds.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, “David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits and The Art of Battling Giants,” he demystifies the story and the common assumptions we make about power.
Gladwell, who has gained a respected, pop culture status as an author, sees beyond appearances and gets through to their underlying essence. He does it again here.
As the story goes, the Philistines were camped on one side of a ridge overlooking the Elah Valley, while the Israelites were on the other. Unwilling to descend down into the lower ground, both armies are at a standstill. That is until Goliath makes his way down into the valley, carrying a javelin, a spear and a sword along with an attendant carrying a large shield. Facing the Israelites he barks, “Choose you a man and let him come down to me! If he prevail in battle against me and strike me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.”
When no one in the Israelite camp moves, a young shepherd boy steps forward and volunteers. Against King Saul’s wishes, the boy refuses Saul’s armor and runs down with only a sling, a shoulder bag and shepherd’s staff. Goliath mocks him gesturing to his staff, “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?”
What takes place next is the stuff of legend.
But on closer examination, what Gladwell reveals is the reverse of what we were taught. Of the three kinds of ancient warriors: 1. cavalry (on horseback and chariots, 2. infantry (foot soldiers with swords and shields) there was a 3rd, (projectile warriors, archers, etc.⎯slingers.)
An experienced slinger could kill or maim a target at a distance of up to two-hundred yards and were deadly against infantry. So who really was the underdog? When Saul offers David his armor, he assumes David is going to fight the giant hand to hand. But David, who has killed lions and bears with his sling countless times, has no intention of fighting Goliath’s fight.
Gladwell uses this story to demonstrate how we think we see a challenge, and how it seems enormous when, in fact, we’re not really seeing it for what it truly is. We’re overwhelmed by its size. But as he points out, just as the Israelites saw an intimidating giant, in reality, the very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness.
For Israel today, with a vast unwieldy Arab world in turmoil⎯not unlike the larger, unstable Goliath⎯Israel has and can again demonstrate the story Gladwell is preaching by being smarter, more nimble and using its size as an advantage.
Whether Stuxnet, Iron Dome or even the IDF’s apt named interceptor missile, David’s Sling, modern Israel is again the embodiment of the brave lad who outsmarted and outmaneuvered the slow, unsteady enemy.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at abebuzz.com.