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What the Story of David and Goliath tells us about Introverts and Extroverts

The Victorious Underdog

David versus Goliath
David versus Goliath

The book “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell is a story about the underdog. Throughout history, society has celebrated the victories of the disadvantaged hero – understandably so. Often, weak physical stature, lack of material wealth, or inexperience are the crutches the underdog must overcome. And to make matters worse, the victorious underdog must not only overcome their own deficiencies but must defeat an opponent with none of their weaknesses and all the strengths (that they lack).

The more competent counterpart: the favorite, on the other hand, is often well endowed with all the coveted characteristics of the archetypal champion. He has physical strength, power, influence, experience, and intelligence.

But the Biblical story of ‘David and Goliath’, and Gladwell’s thesis in general, shows us how the underdog – both in history, sports, mythology, and religion – far from being the hopeless competitor, has overlooked qualities that make him at least as advantaged as his enemy, if not more advantaged.

I’ll summarize the story below and explain how Gladwell’s argument neatly extends to our misconceptions in the business world.

The Story of David and Goliath

An epic fight took place between David and Goliath that would decide victory for their respective armies – the Israelites and the Philistines. At the time, the rules of battle allowed both armies to each elect a representative who would face off in one-on-one combat instead of pitting two entire armies against one another.

David, a slender and weak looking shepherd with nothing but a slingshot as his weapon volunteered to face Goliath, a ruthless giant with heavy armor and several powerful weapons: a javelin, a spear, and a sword. Everyone feared Goliath. No one feared David.

But as the Biblical story goes, David emerges victorious. For a long time, people have interpreted the story as an ode to the underdog, who can manage to overcome the greatest odds. But Gladwell’s insight is that the odds were actually on David’s side.

Goliath was a giant, but he likely suffered from a disease that caused him to be somewhat blind. He was also very slow because of his size and what he wore and fought with.

David, on the other hand, was a lightweight, he was quick and mobile. And while a slingshot might seem like a joke of a weapon to us in modern times, it wasn’t the case back then. Shepherds were very tough, and those that knew how to properly use a slingshot were deadly.

David was a competent shepherd who was accurate, quick and could kill almost any living target with the slingshot that he has mastered.

After reading the book, Quiet, it occurred to me that introverts were like David while extroverts resembled Goliath. Society usually overlooks introverts as weaklings who aren’t tough enough, or loud enough, or aggressive enough to have a seat at the table.

Between the loud-mouthed, action-oriented, hot-tempered executive and the reclusive, quiet, cerebral one, the former would always win out. King Saul dismissed David multiple times before he finally allowed him to fight Goliath.

Extroverts and Introverts in Business

In business, introverts such as Bill Gates can capitalize on their hidden strengths while extroverts like Steve Jobs take advantage of being the center of attention.

Examples of Successful Introverts: 

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Mark Zuckerberg
  3. Elon Musk
  4. Warren Buffet

Examples of Successful Extroverts: 

  1. Steve Jobs
  2. Tony Robbins
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Oprah

Contrasting Introverts and Extroverts

There are a lot of key qualities that help you succeed in business. Here are some areas where extroverts and introverts differ in their respective competencies.

Attention 

Extroverts thrive on attention. When Tony Robbins or Donald Trump stand in front of a crowd, they feed off the energy. Extroverts welcome attention, controversy, and fame.

Like a Hydra that grows more snake heads when one is destroyed, the hyper extrovert becomes stronger under social scrutiny. The introvert avoids attention at all costs. They don’t want to be seen under the spotlight. They prefer to quietly create in peace.

Failure 

The trouble with an introvert is that while they tend to go for higher percentage shots, it’s often the case that they don’t take enough of them. Introverts end up giving up and withdrawing from the world a lot easier than the hyperactive extrovert.

The extrovert is comfortable with failure. He takes multiple risks and reacts well under pressure. They see challenges where introverts see threats. The introverts that succeed do so by inverting their tendency to fear failure and maintain faith that their abilities will pay off in the long run. Goliath can take a hit, even multiple hits, but David must choose his targets carefully.

Networking 

A tremendous advantage an extrovert has over an introvert is his ability to network seamlessly. This is a crucial skill in business and in life, in general. Those who can tap into the powers of their networks can make up for a lot of shortcomings in other areas.

For example, an entrepreneur who might not have the best product might leverage his extensive network to get a step up on the competition.

An extroverted entrepreneur is a star, has many followers, and is likely to garner belief in his product early on. He can jumpstart his reputation and will be cheered on towards the finish line. Both the Israelites and Philistines couldn’t but acknowledge Goliath’s advantage, while discounting David’s.

Blind Spots

Gladwell points out how Goliath’s unusually large stature implied he likely suffered from a disease that affected his vision. An extrovert’s Achilles heel is their inability to spend enough time focusing on the details. He is usually driven by the vision and uses hyperbole and bluster to drive the project on while serious blind spots threaten to compromise his grand plan.

The introvert, on the other hand, is naturally inclined to study the details religiously. It’s a form of overcompensation. The introvert would prefer to spend almost all their time on developing the product and making sure it’s perfect – while spending the least amount of time on promotion, networking, and sales.

Focus 

David triumphs over Goliath thanks to a focused hit, that Gladwell goes into detail describing. It was possible, for example, to kill a man with a single focused strike on the head, and such was the precision of David’s skill that he was able to shoot down moving objects such as birds. While the extrovert scatters his efforts and tries to add value in multiple places, the introvert focuses his powers on a single object, and that singular focus results in deadly strikes.

“Most people stop looking when they find the proverbial needle in the haystack. I would continue looking to see if there were other needles.” – Albert Einstein

The Persian Invasion

In the 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene reminds us of a story that illustrated this point that took place in 434 B.C

That year, King Xerses of Persia invaded Greece and he believed that he could conquer the country easily since he had the largest army that had ever been assimilated for an invasion – around 5 million soldiers according to Herodotus.  The Persians planned to attack the Greeks by using their large navy to trap the Greeks in harbor, and then, by using a bridge they would build, would overpower the Greeks on land.

Xerxes was confident of his plan, but his adviser saw holes in his strategy. Artabanus cautiously remarked to his leader: “The two mightiest powers in the world were against you.”Xerxes laughed this off, thinking that no possible force could match his powerful army.

“I will tell you what they are,” answered Artabanus. “The land and the sea.” The Greek harbors were not large enough to receive Xerxes’ fleet. And if the Persians conquered more land, their supply lines would be stretched, thus raising the costs of feeding the immense Persian army.

But the Persian king thought that his adviser was a coward and ignored his warning. Fate confirmed Artabanus’ prediction – bad weather destroyed the Persian fleet, which was too large to take refuge in any harbor. And on land, the Persian army wrecked everything in their path, including crops and food. The Persians were a slow and easy target for the Greeks who were well-practiced in various kinds of deceptive strategies. The Greeks defeated the Persian army – this was disastrous for Xerxes.

It is wrongly assumed that size is more important than mobility. Like David in his battle against Goliath, the Greeks used cunning and shrewd strategy to defeat the over sized, lumbering giant.

“The flexible and fleet of foot will almost always win, for they have more strategic options. The more gigantic the enemy, the easier it is to induce collapse.”- The 48 Laws of Power 

Summary

Extroverts (like Goliath) have an advantage in direct confrontation and in short range combat, while introverts have an advantage in indirect confrontation and long-range combat. Procrastination is an introvert’s friend. The writer, for example, can do good work when he is not in the limelight or in constant interaction with people, while the salesman (extrovert) shines when he is in constant and contact with others.

Of course, both skill sets are complementary, which is why it makes sense to partner with people who don’t share your strengths but cover your weaknesses. The entrepreneur has a choice then. If he is introverted, he needs to hone his extroverted skills or find someone that can. If he is extroverted, he needs to hone his introverted skills, or else he should partner up.

 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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