Interesting book. Interesting MacLeans interview of Malcolm Gladwell – a Canadian who has moved to the U.S. I wonder if Gladwell would say that he moved to a “FOREIGN” country or moved from a “FOREIGN” country.
Raised in Elmira, Ont., and currently a high-profile staff writer at The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell is also a mega-selling author. Combining graceful writing, his own reporting and academic research, as well as anecdotal evidence, Gladwell’s books connect the dots in startling, often counterintuitive ways to create novel theories of familiar phenomena in The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. His latest book, David and Goliath, examines why the underdog wins so often, and some of the morally troubling issues that arise in his or her struggles.
Q: David and Goliath is a very enjoyable book, partly because of our deep-seated instinct to cheer for the underdog. Why we do that?
A: Because it makes the world seem more just, or at least, it makes the world seem more hopeful, because, if the favourite always won, then there’s no point, right? There’d be no point in fighting. We’re instinctively thinking of future situations where we will be outmanned and we want to make sure we still have some kind of chance.
Q: Whom we see as the underdog, though, isn’t always the underdog. Take the David and Goliath story: David has the distance weapon, a slingshot, so in what way is the lumbering Goliath the favourite?
A: We do sort of stack the deck. One of the points I wanted to make was that our kind of instinctive ideas about what is an advantage and what isn’t are often wrong. With David and Goliath, what guided our understanding was our sense that being big and tall and strong and well-armed was always more advantageous than being audacious, fast-moving and lightly armed. But, in fact, there’s no reason why. Big and strong and well-armed is not always best. That’s just our default position, and it’s an erroneous one.
Q: One of the advantages of the supposedly powerless, you write, is a sense of having nothing to lose. For some of those you profile, such as physician Emil Freireich, who aggressively fought childhood leukemia even when his colleagues accused him of being inhumane, it seems more a matter knowing what real loss is, and that losing your reputation doesn’t kill you.
A: Yeah, it’s some combination of those two things: nothing to lose and indifference to people’s opinion when you’ve overcome worse than that. In the story about the girls’ basketball team, coach Vivek Ranadive really does have nothing to lose, in the sense that his self-image, and the self-image of his team—12-year-old Silicon Valley girls who dreamed about growing up to be marine biologists—is not tied up in basketball and their basketball reputation. More important, they know for a fact that, if they play basketball the normal way, they will lose every game. So that’s a classic nothing-to-lose situation. You’re right, though: Freireich is slightly different, though equally powerful. Having lost, having grown up in grinding poverty without parental love, he understands [that] even that is not a terminal position, that it is possible to cope with enormous loss and come back stronger. Even when everyone is saying he can’t do what he wants to those children, that he’s causing them immense pain for no foreseeable gain, he keeps pushing.