So David had the advantage all along. His victory was not a miracle; the slingshot was the superior weapon. Goliath’s size and heavy armor—his assurance of victory in a close-contact battle—guaranteed that he couldn’t lumber out of the way of a rock traveling 34 meters a second. David won by turning Goliath’s great advantage into his undoing. Therein lies an exhilarating moral, says Malcolm Gladwell, and he proceeds to spin illustrative tales about “underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants,” as the subtitle of his latest book puts it.
Gladwell, who half a decade ago brought us tales of top dogs in Outliers: The Story of Success, is still worrying the same bone: Who gets ahead, and how? His own story exemplifies one tried-and-true formula: keep asking that question and offering inspirational anecdotes as answers. In Outliers, he promoted what he has called “an amazingly hopeful and uplifting idea.” Don’t be fooled by the meritocratic myth that success is the product of God-given qualities such as intelligence and talent. In fact, Gladwell argued, the achievements that we chalk up to natural ability or individual resolve owe a great deal to factors we underappreciate: historical timing, the career paths seized by immigrant parents, family wealth, the opportunity to put in thousands of hours of practice. Society has more control over who succeeds than we imagine; our talent pool could be much bigger than it is.