Feeling Like An Underdog? It Might Be A Good Thing!

By Ken Garner
In August 8, 2014

It’s easy to understand why so many feel like underdogs in our industry. Challenges seem to exist wherever we look. We often feel like David getting ready to take on Goliath. Well, take heart because Malcolm Gladwell is providing us “underdogs” with reasons to think differently in his most recent book, David and Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

The book predictably begins with a detailed review of the famous confrontation between the over-powering Philistine warrior and the diminutive Israelite shepherd who possessed a unique talent. I have to admit that up to the point of reading Gladwell’s book I always thought the story of David and Goliath was a parable. So for me it was a bit of a revelation to find out that the story is rooted in historical fact. Apparently, in the days of the Old Testament it was not unusual for warring parties involved in a stalemate to select a soldier from each side to settle the battle with individual combat. In this case the Philistine’s chose a giant of a man (6’9”) clad in full body armor with weapons designed for close combat to be their representative. I’m quite sure the captain of the Philistine army was pleased with his choice and confident in the outcome. I’m also sure that the Israelites were stunned when they got a view of Goliath moving to the location where things would be settled. Only one Israelite volunteered and he wasn’t even a soldier. Seeing this apparent mismatch how would you have wagered on the outcome?

As Paul Harvey used to say, “now for the rest of the story”. We all know the surprising outcome, but do we fully understand how David was able to “smite” the mighty Goliath without breaking much of a sweat? In fact, the fight was indeed a mismatch but all the advantages were owned by David. The selection of Goliath was based on the preconceived notion that the combat would be close order. Why not choose a giant of a man with incredible strength clad in full armor with weapons ideal for hand-to-hand combat? However, David had a different strategy in mind. As a shepherd David had developed a unique skill as a “slinger”; that is, the ability to ward off predators with the use of sling that could propel a stone with tremendous velocity and incredible accuracy –from long range. David skillfully substituted speed, stealth and the ability to accurately launch a “long range missile” to turn the tide in his favor. The lumbering giant never had a chance.

The point of all this? Gladwell points out that often apparent sources of strength are also sources of weakness. In my previous life I managed a “midsized” magazine printing company. We often competed with the largest magazine production companies in the industry and we won more of those competitive battles than we lost. Why? How? We certainly couldn’t match up with all of the “big boys” capabilities illustrated in their promotional brochures. However, just like Goliath their size was also their weakness. They tended to be slow to react; often overconfident, even arrogant; overly bureaucratic; and overly formal. We didn’t possess all of their impressive fire power but we were very responsive, quick to respond emphasizing lots of personalized service, grateful for every piece of business we won.

Gladwell says that, “…being an underdog can change people (and organizations and industries) in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.” So, underdogs take heart. We may be better positioned for combat than we thought.

Food for thought…

Ken Garner

President & CEO Ken Garner joined Epicomm – then the Association of Marketing Service Providers – in November 2008 as its President and CEO after a 33 year career in the printing industry – all with the same company. He joined United Litho, a heatset web magazine printing company, after receiving his undergraduate degree. Working his way up the corporate ladder from janitor/delivery driver he held a variety of jobs including V.P of Operations and V.P. of Sales and Marketing. He spent the last 12 years of his printing career as United Litho’s president. In 1994, he engineered the sale of the company to the Sheridan Group and became a member of its Leadership Team.

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