Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gladwell's New Book

Malcolm Gladwell has written an entertaining and insightful new book titled David and Goliath.  The book examines how the disadvantaged may not be as disadvantaged as we think in some cases.   I found the book very interesting, though I acknowledge the merits of some heated criticism that the book has received.  Scholars take issue with the way Gladwell chooses selectively from the academic literature to support his points, without always examining the entire range of studies on a topic.   Still, he raises some great points.  His chapter on why smaller class sizes don't necessarily raise academic performance is a tour de force.  I'm sure he won't be getting invited to as many cocktail parties in Manhattan after some people read that chapter! 

I would like to focus in for a moment on how a key theme from the book connects with some foundational scholarship in the field of business strategy.   Harvard Professors David Yoffie, Jan Rivkin, and Michael Porter have argued for years that successful entrants often take advantage of the rigidities associated with the historical commitments that incumbent players have made.  Yoffie specifically points out that some great entrants practice "judo strategy" - using the incumbent's apparent strengths against them.   In many ways, that is the story of David and Goliath, and a key theme throughout the book by Gladwell.   In short, Gladwell's notions about the disadvantaged apply in the business world as well. 

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