Reinterpreting David and Goliath
Just this morning, I began reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath which begins by telling the well-known story of, you guessed it, David and Goliath. But in the book, he reframes the story. Gladwell tells us that we have been misinterpreting it. This is not the story of a small shepherd boy who went to war with an outsized opponent and happened to win. Instead, the story of David and Goliath is one of a small shepherd boy who turned the match to his advantage by refusing to concede to the conventional warfare his opponent was demanding.
David assessed the giant’s strengths and weaknesses and determined that he was unable to defeat Goliath on his own terms. David then analyzed his own strengths. He had honed his skills with the sling in the fields protecting his sheep. He had slain a lion and a bear by this method when they carried off one of his charges. Scientific studies have determined that a skilled slinger could release a stone with the same force as a large-caliber handgun. We aren’t talking about a little boy’s slingshot here. This sling was a weapon of war, the distance weapon that preceded the bow.
When David met Goliath in the valley for a battle to the death, Goliath had three weapons and was clad in armor. He was prepared for close-hand combat. But David refused to meet Goliath on the giant’s own terms. Neither Goliath nor the Philistine army knew it at that moment, but they had already lost the battle. Goliath was too heavy and slow-moving to react to David’s method of attack.
After descending into the valley to meet Goliath, David addressed him:
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” I Samuel 17:44-47 (ESV).
David began running toward Goliath while whirling his sling. He let go of the rope and launched a projectile toward his enemy at the only vulnerable point. Less than one second later, the stone embedded itself in the giant’s skull rendering him either unconscious or dead. The shepherd then grabbed the giant’s sword and cut off his head.
David defeated his opponent by challenging convention and refusing to meet him on Goliath’s own terms. By choosing a different strategy, David turned the odds in his own favor. His opponent did not recognize the danger he was in and was unable to defend himself against an unanticipated form of battle.
Choosing to Play 4-on-5
When I was in 10th grade, our basketball team was playing a school (who I’ll refer to as “Metro”) against whom we were pretty evenly matched. We did not have one particularly good player, but had several moderately good players. Metro, on the other hand, had one good player, while the rest of the team was made up of non-difference makers. My coach understood that if we played a conventional game, the odds of victory were in doubt. He devised a plan.
I was not a good offensive player. But I loved defense, and I was a good defender. I relished the opportunity to hassle the opposing point guard. Getting a five-second call on him at the top of the key was a rush. I envisioned myself as a white, suburban, 135-pound Gary Payton. What I lacked in talent (and mind you, there was very little talent), I tried to compensate for with tenacity.
In the pre-game meeting, the coach instructed me: “Jeremy, I want you to play defense on #25 the whole game. When we’re on offense. When we’re on defense. I want you to tell me what kind of gum he’s chewing, what kind of deodorant he wears. You stick on him the whole game. You’ll get in his head.” I’ve rarely smiled so broadly. This was to be my finest hour.
I did as instructed. When we were in man defense, I was on him. When we went to a box-and-one, I defended #25. When we were on offense and #25 was guarding our best player, I was glued to his hip. It didn’t take long for him to realize things were not occurring in the traditional way. He started trash talking and getting frustrated. His foul total started to accumulate and his productivity decreased. The score was becoming lopsided in our favor. In the third quarter, #25 drew his fifth and final foul when, out of frustration, he shoved me and said some … not nice things. I just beamed back at him. The game was not much of a contest after that.
By challenging conventions, my coach had put our opponent in their heels and attacked them with a strategy for which they were unprepared. He gave us the advantage by electing to put his offense at a strategic disadvantage.
Refuse to Play Your Opponent’s Conventional Game
When you’re litigating cases, there are going to be times you know the deck stacks against you. Either there are bad facts or bad law, and if you don’t do something spectacular, your client is going to lose. These are times when you may need to consider not meeting your opponent where she’s at, but rather begin playing a different game.
Let’s consider this scenario: Opposing counsel has an expert who is going to testify that your client is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. You take the expert’s deposition and discover there are some holes in his opinions and analysis. The conventional thing to do is to get your own expert who will testify that your client is not liable and articulate the reasons why. This is what your opponent likely expects you to do.
An alternative approach is to hire no expert of your own. You may choose instead to just poke holes in the opinions and analysis given by your opponent’s expert. What is wrong with his calculations? Why could the accident not have occurred as he is asserting? What facts has he failed to consider or evidence is he omitting?
Do not comply with conventional approaches as a matter of course. Take a broad view of your case and consider all of the possible strategies available to you. Get an outside perspective that may shed light on a tactic you had not considered. Do not concede to fighting in the manner that your opponent is demanding. Devise a strategy that is most effective for reaching your goals, and execute it. Leave your opponent standing flat-footed, wondering what you’re doing as you sprint toward them and unleash the stone that will topple the giant.
Photo by Mr ATM