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Malcolm Gladwell's 'David and Goliath' tackles underdogs ... that aren't

Malcolm Gladwell.

Author Malcolm Gladwell has this thing he does with his books: He takes conventional wisdom, turns it inside out,  and finds a twist or an angle that makes you think about it differently.

His latest, "David and Goliath," explains why underdogs can win ... if they realize they're not really underdogs.

On why Gladwell wanted to talk about underdogs in his latest book:

"We're obsessed with them. Why do we return again and again to the subject of seemingly lopsided conflicts? So one, I wanted to explain that obsession. And two, I thought the ways in which we misread these conflicts are symptomatic of something deeper, which is I don't think that we have a good sense of what an advantage really is. Or a disadvantage. We have those categories mixed up, and I wanted to kind of sort through them and say, 'Things that we have thought were real advantages actually aren't, and things that we think of as overwhelming obstacles actually are incredibly useful.'"

On the success of David Boies, a trial lawyer diagnosed with dyslexia:

"Here we have one of the greatest lawyers in the country, and he is profoundly dyslexic. He reads basically one book a year. He finds reading difficult and painful. Think about that for a moment, he's a lawyer! He's in a profession that has reading at its absolute core. When I talked to him, I said, 'How did you become such a successful lawyer in spite of this disability?' And he said, 'not in spite, I became a successful lawyer because of this so-called disability.' And he explained to me how he spent his life compensating for this."

"He learned how to listen, and he also developed an extraordinary memory. So he would sit in school, and he didn't take notes, he sat and listened to the teacher and remembered everything that was said. Those two skills turned out to be far more useful than you'd think in getting through school, but more importantly, when he becomes a trial lawyer, what's being a great trial lawyer all about? It's about listening very closely to what the person you're cross-examining is saying and being able to summon that in the moment. So he's famous for confronting the witness and saying, 'Three days ago, you said the following thing.' He'd been working on those skills his entire life."

On what happens when 'Davids' become 'Goliaths':

"I talk about these categories as if they're static, and they're not. Microsoft is a great example ... was a classic underdog, was nimble, fast-moving, audacious, all those things that underdogs are, they are not anymore. They are now a massive Goliath encumbered by all of the weaknesses of giants. Slow-moving, lumbering, lacking imagination. It's very difficult for individuals or institutions who were once 'David' to understand they are no longer 'Davids.' In the present world, where adapting to new changes and technologies quickly and effectively is so important, what's wrong with being smaller? Isn't that an advantage?"

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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