Mike Dariano

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David and Goliath (Book Review)

Full disclosure, I enjoy most of what David and Goliath author Malcolm Gladwell writes. While there have been some critiques of his newest book, this isn't one of them. Most of those reviews stem from the idea that Gladwell plays too fast and loose with the ideas, but this is his strength. He's not an academic, though he uses their tools. Gladwell is like the architect who dreams up the grand buildings and then passes things on to the engineers to see if they can be built.

David and Goliath is the story about how inherent strengths also have inherent weaknesses. My car seats seven people (strength) but it gets poor gas mileage (weakness). Gladwell pivots from obvious examples like this to the angle of looking at the social sciences and cherry picking ideas that fit within this context, like how your school choice might affect your success.

I wrote about the idea of big fish in a little pond at People Smarter Than Me. Gladwell suggests that going to the best school may be a poor choice. For example, most economic professors at elite institutions were once students at elite institutions. John List is one now, but wasn't one as a student. Instead, he got his Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming and taught at the University of Central Florida. Gladwell's suggestion is that being a big fish and spreading your fins helps you grow more than having tasty - intellectual -food to eat. List may have done this well because he was a big fish in a little pond.

Gladwell also shares the idea that maybe 30% of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. His hypothesis is, because this group had so much trouble learning to read, they adapted and built other skills like listening, summarizing, or negotiating. They developed those skills while their peers worked on becoming better readers. When I reading this, I thought about John Saddington's journey and announcement that he's an autist. If our weaknesses force us to build unique strengths, then we can say our successes are driven - in part - by those weaknesses?

There are many examples like these in the book, the personal ones about specific Hollywood executives and lawyers fit better than the larger ideas like the IRA and civil rights movements and the book tends to deflate a bit in the latter third.

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