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David and Goliath

Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

Malcolm Gladwell

Beyond a certain point, lowering class sizes doesn't help - between 18 and 24 pupils seems to be the sweet spot. And stretching to get into the very best uni pays off for the top 20%, but the rest would probably get a better education at a lower-ranked college.

The value of cross-disciplinary thinkers in a time when people get huge amount of experiences via cable TV and Internet, but lack theoretical frameworks to make sense of them.

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Who do you think is happier - a poor person in India or a poor person in America? It's all to do with comparisons - if almost all the people you know are as poor as you, it doesn't really worry you.

If you're being interrogated on witness stand, take your time answering every Q, even the simple ones. Because if you rush through the easy ones, it will be very noticeable if you slow down answering the hard ones (that are going to incriminate you).

IKEA started when Ingvar Kamprad realized that a lot of the cost in supplying furniture was in the assembly. So he started underselling all his competitors by selling flatpack cheap. But then Swedish furniture makers organized a boycott and refused to sell to him. So he looked around and saw Poland had plenty of wood and cheap labour. But this was 1961, roght in the Cold War, and Poland was a communist country with none of the infrastructure or trained workforce or legal protections of a Western country. IK got in there and made it work.

WW2 Blitz - Germany tried to bomb London into submission. Even the British govt was convinced that that wd cause terror and massive mental problems in populace. But it turned out people didn't react that way. There were 3 things that cd happen to you if you were bombed. You cd die, which took you out of the equation, you cd have a very near miss, which often was traumatic, or you cd have a 'remote miss', which paradoxically produced euphoric relief - "Wow I survived, I'm lucky/bulletproof". And there were vastly more people who experienced a remote miss and discovered self-confidence.

If total up all the wars of last 200 years, a third of the time the weaker country wins. And if they use guerilla tactics, success rate goes up to 64%.

We are often drawn to charismatic leaders, even though we should know that that often turns out badly. We often choose the physically imposing or attractive. We make all kinds of mistakes when we get carried away by a strong personality.

We are also overly in love with certainty as a leadership trait. We want someone who can stand up and give us very clear direction even though for most of the problems we face, there is no clear direction. We should be happier with thoughtful, nerdy types. But we revert to our cavemen selves, and we want the big strong guy who can swing a club harder than anyone else.

In 50 years no-one will remember Steve Jobs, but they'll be putting up statues for Bill Gates because of what his philanthropy is achieving.

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(A Digested Read)

In the heart of ancient Palestine stood a six-foot-nine-inch giant. Against him was a five-foot-nothing midget. No one gave the midget a prayer. The giant's name was Goliath. The midget's name was David. You might have read about their battle in the Old Testament. But the Bible got it wrong. David was not the underdog.

Most people make assumptions about power and jump to ridiculous conclusions. Who does not think the country with the most men and weaponry will automatically win a war? Not counting those of you who lived through Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Take the American invasion of Grenada. Although Grenada was much the smaller country, it actually held all the aces. Had Grenada played its cards just a little better, the US would have been wiped off the face of the earth.

Vivek Ranadive decided to coach his daughter's basketball team. Vivek realised that most coaches had made the simple error of packing their teams with players who were at least 6ft 7in. His daughter's friends were 5ft 3in. Vivek understood his team could run through the legs of the opposition before climbing on to each other's shoulders to score a slam dunk. They beat the Boston Celtics 89-12. In their dreams.

Can you have too much money? Personally, I don't think you can, or I would have stopped chancing my arm with counterintuitive anecdotes long ago. But research shows you can. Jim was very happy when he didn't have much money. Now he's a top Hollywood producer and not very happy. See what I mean?

(Because his success came from childhood poverty which gave him the drive to succeed and not to waste money. But his kids have grown up in an LA mansion with Ferraris and RRs parked in the driveway, and his 'money' speeches sound totally irrelevant.)

Richard is dyslexic. Most people would consider it to be a disadvantage. But Richard worked very hard, got a bit lucky and founded his Virgin empire. Richard could not have done this had he not been dyslexic. Having dyslexia is actually a blessing and anyone who has the condition and has not become a billionaire should be ashamed.

Learning to understand when your disadvantage is an advantage and not a disadvantage can be tricky. Katy was devastated when her entire family was wiped out in an air crash. Then she realised that at least she was alive and would inherit all the money. She went on to become a moderately successful real-estate agent in Florida.

Terry was a large trout in a North American lake. After graduating top of the class from the lake's high school, Terry decided to travel to the ocean to make his fortune. He got gobbled up by Thomas the tuna. Sometimes, it really is better to be a big fish in a little pond, rather a little fish in a big pond.

In 1963, Martin Luther King went to Birmingham, Alabama. Martin Luther King was black. Birmingham, Alabama, was known to be the most racist city in the USA. Therefore, Birmingham, Alabama, was not a safe place for Martin Luther King. But Martin Luther King went anyway. If Martin Luther King had been white, no one would have noticed his presence in Birmingham, Alabama. But because Martin Luther King had the courage to be black and he did go to Birmingham, Alabama, the civil rights movement made significant progress.

Less is sometimes more. And more is sometimes less. It's all a question of perception. Bobby was a career criminal. When California introduced a three strikes and you go to jail policy, Bobby went on a killing spree. The penalties for murder were so severe, they made no difference to him. But when California reduced the maximum sentence from 238 years to 110 years, Bobby decided to go straight. Bobby went to Harvard and became a traffic cop in Iowa.

There was once a boy who looked a bit different. We'll call him Leo Sayer. Because that's his name. Some people laughed at Leo because he had silly hair. Others didn't want to be his friend because he was always telling them that he was right and they were wrong. Leo decided to use his odd hair and off-putting mannerisms to his advantage and changed his name to Malcolm. Malcolm wrote a book telling people how everything they knew was wrong. It became a bestseller. So Malcolm wrote another book just the same. And another. He even rewrote Aesop's Fables. Still no one noticed. Malcolm cultivated a persona of being an outsider while earning huge amounts of money from banks, tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. Malcolm earns more for a one-hour talk than you will earn in a year. So who is laughing now?

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