David and Goliath, not what I thought it was

Like many kids, I learned the story of David and Goliath as a parable to illustrate that underdogs can overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

As an adult, going through a children’s bible with my kid, I saw it differently. It’s a story of how knowledge, skill and innovation can win out.

David had lots of experience taking out coyotes with a sling and stone. David should have won. He wasn’t the underdog. It’s just that everyone else on the battlefield was unaware of David’s skills and were locked into thinking of the traditional way of fighting.

My guess is that David never doubted that he could take out Goliath. But, he knew why. He had lots of trial and error practice to back himself up. The others didn’t know about it or hadn’t thought to apply his stone slinging skills to a 1v1 human battle.

But, I think the traditional telling of the story is dangerous. It gives the impression that David improvised in the moment and succeeded against the odds and encourages people to take stupid risks and hope they’ll just figure it out in the moment, like most Hollywood action plots.

What it should really teach is that practice makes perfect. Like many Hollywood stars will tell you, what appears to be their overnight success successes was years in the making, with thousands of rejections.

It also reminds me of something one of my navy pilot friends told me one time. Russian jets were designed to be superior for dogfights. The US military decided a better strategy was to knock out the enemy from 20 miles away to avoid the dogfights as much as possible.

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2 thoughts on “David and Goliath, not what I thought it was

  1. Seth – This Malcom Gladwell Ted talk was sent to me a few weeks ago and is pretty consistent with your thoughts on the topic – thought you may be interested in it.

    • Wow! That was good. Thanks. I knew he had written a book with the title, but I hadn’t looked into yet. I guess there’s nothing new under the sun.

      Another similar story was illustrated on a recent Freakonomics podcast, which explained how Kobayashi’s approach to Nathan’s hot dog eating competition led to a story similar to David and Goliath.

      http://freakonomics.com/2014/07/03/a-better-way-to-eat-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

      It also reminds me of what Nassim Taleb refers to as domain dependence. We tend to think of things within domains and don’t see solutions from crossing domains as often as we should. His example was seeing a guy at a hotel using the bellhop to carry his bags, then seeing the same guy later in the hotel gym lifting weights.

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