David and Goliath

I got Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, last week. I got the audio version narrated by Gladwell and it has been great listening to it. I would definitely recommend the book. The book is about underdogs and giants. Gladwell introduces the book by recounting the Biblical David and Goliath story. I agree with most of what Gladwell says about the event apart from one thing.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of David and Goliath then here is a quick recap. I did a blog post on the story about these two characters in 2011 and I have included relevant sections of that post here.

“According to the Bible, the Philistines decided to wage a war on the Israelites. The Philistine army outnumbered and were better equipped than Israel’s army. The best Philistine warrior, Goliath, challenged any of Israel’s finest to face him in a duel. The outcome of the duel determined the result of the battle. The loser’s army had to surrender to the victor’s troops.

No one was willing to face Goliath in open combat because of his gigantic frame and great skill. Even King Saul of Israel didn’t want to face Goliath. David the Shepherd, a teenager, volunteered to face Goliath.  Saul gave him his armour and sword, which David tested but found uncomfortable because he wasn’t a trained soldier. He discarded the sword for his preferred weapon of choice – a sling.

Goliath was offended when David approached him with a sling and some stones instead of a sword. He abused and cursed him for daring to do this.  Goliath had never faced an opponent with a sling before so he was unprepared and dismissive of this method of warfare. This is why he didn’t wear his helmet which he left with his armour bearer. It only took one stone, slung by David, hitting Goliath’s unprotected forehead to knock him out cold. David went to an unconscious Goliath, took his sword and chopped off his head. David used the sling instead of the sword because it played to his strengths and he was comfortable with it.” (Source: The curious case of Tim Tebow and David)

Gladwell suggests in his book that Goliath had his helmet on when he confronted David. This would mean that for David to be able to strike Goliath’s forehead with a stone from his sling then the helmet had to be exposing Goliath’s huge forehead. Most military helmets tend to protect most of the head especially the forehead. If Goliath had his helmet on when the stone struck his forehead then it means that his helmet was poorly designed because it exposed his forehead.

I believe that Goliath’s arrogance contributed to his downfall not bad helmet design. He underestimated David and didn’t put on his helmet. He saw a teenage boy with a staff approaching him and he didn’t consider him a threat hence he wasn’t on his guard. If an Israelite warrior dressed in armour with a sword had approached Goliath then he would have been on his guard but David’s appearance seemed harmless. He dismissed David without properly assessing him as a viable threat.

Gladwell’s book made me go back to the Bible to check about the use of slingers in the Israelite army. Gladwell mentioned in his book about the role of slingers and archers in armies during battles of that era. I discovered that slingers played a key role in Israel. The Bible described the skill level of these slingers in the Book of Judges. This was years before David was born.

“At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men from those living in Gibeah. 16 Among all these soldiers there were seven hundred select troops who were left-handed, each of whom could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” Judges 20:15-16 (NIV)

This meant that there were trained military slingers in Saul’s army and you would have to presume that some of these men were better slingers than David. Yet not one of them volunteered to face Goliath despite the financial rewards which Saul offered for killing Goliath.

Everyone in the Israelite camp thought that they had to fight Goliath with a sword. This is because all military man-to-man combats were done this way. This is the way it had always been done and therefore no one thought of changing the rules because they were all insiders. Everybody operated by these rules until David came along and showed them a different way of looking at things. The mentality of ‘that is the way we have always done it’ was prevalent.

David didn’t know the rules hence he didn’t have to operate by them. He was an outsider and this gave him a fresh perspective and a way of thinking outside the box. He realised that he had no chance of beating Goliath by playing according to traditional military rules which played to Goliath’s strengths. He needed to change the game in order to win. Goliath expected a sword fight but he got a sling fight instead. He wasn’t prepared for this.

This scenario is quite common in Business. The people who change and disrupt business industries are usually outsiders because insiders are blinded by conventional industry rules. (Refer to The Outsider Perspective blog post)

I bet there were many Israelite military slingers who would have smacked their heads with their palms as it dawned on them that they could have done what David did.  They had just witnessed David use his sling and stone to bring Goliath down and then proceeded to chop off his head.  It was not a skill thing but a sight thing. They assumed there was only one way (the sword way) to fight Goliath in a man-to-man combat. Their assumption was wrong. 

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