Why Davids Win: They Ignore Goliath's Rules

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2009 7:47 PM CDT
Donatello's 15th-century bronze statue of David.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – When it comes to David vs. Goliath-style battles, the underdog’s secret weapon is always supreme effort, Malcolm Gladwell writes in the New Yorker. From that Biblical encounter to Lawrence of Arabia’s stand against the Turks to a winning, but unskilled, California girls’ basketball team, “legs” tend to triumph over power. Taking the contest into unorthodox territory—an overmatched basketball team using the full-court press, for example—is a recipe for success.

Though it works—a study of historic confrontations shows Davids won almost two-thirds of the time when they “acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy”—it’s not a popular tactic, Gladwell writes. Why? It’s hard. “The prospect of playing by David’s rules” is “too daunting.” When basketball coaches see the toll a full-court press takes on their players, they “would rather lose.”