It’s easy to point to example after example of Davids beating Goliaths, and as Malcom Gladwell argues in his excellent book David and Goliath, there are often inherent weaknesses that gave David a fighting chance against his larger, stronger, more accomplished enemy.
Particularly now, as technology has created an unprecedented parity in business, politics, and sports, the giants are seemingly more vulnerable than ever.
Thus, the question must be asked – how can Goliath ensure victory?
I asked my Expert-on-Everything, Google, and saw a lot of love for the small, scrappy-types, but not much for the leaders of the pack:
Since nearly every professional can probably look downstream and find a smaller competitor nipping at their heels, I decided to lay out three ways Goliaths can survive that one in a million shot from David’s sling.
Assess Your Vulnerability
Goliath can win the vast majority of his battles by relying on his strengths – his size, pedigree, weaponry, and armor. It’s why he is the favorite, and frankly, why many would say that a blog post discussing why Goliath wins is a bit trivial.
David’s only chance at success is by attacking Goliath’s weaknesses. He’s slow and got poor vision, seemingly small deficiencies in comparison to his strengths, but deficiencies that ultimately cost the big guy dearly.
If you are the Goliath in your world, search high and low for your weaknesses, no matter how small. How will David attack you? Force yourself to admit how you could theoretically beat you, even in the smallest edge case.
Consider the case of Nintendo vs. Sega, in the early 90’s. Nintendo had a stronghold on the game publisher community, on distribution, and consumer mindshare. But they failed to notice the small vulnerability that Sega eventually attacked – the fact that their games (slow, controlled, whimsical) were everything that the rebellious 90s youth were not.
Had Nintendo looked more critically of itself, it may have brought the blazing speed of Sonic or the unprecedented mayhem to the market, and kept Sega out of the space.
Exploit Your Resources
If Goliath had spotted his weaknesses, he would have had access to resources to address them that David could have only dreamed of. The most decorated warrior of his time, he could have easily procured a top of the line set of bi-focals (or Google Glasses) to solve his vision problem, and contracted the finest Philistine fitness trainer to improve his agility.
The cost of doing so would have been a drop in the bucket for his wildly successful army; as such, he could have addressed his weaknesses with relatively low impact to their overall mission. This is key, as to not become obsessed with the smaller competitor at the expense of overall progress.
If your organization is facing threats from a smaller competitor, is there a way you can exploit your resources to beat them, while not sacrificing the bigger opportunities ahead? Can you mobilize a small team of smart, hungry individuals, and give them budget, tools, financial incentives – often entirely out of reach to your smaller competitors - to make it impossible for David to exploit your weaknesses?
Recently, Sprint has launched a discounting plan to attack AT&T. Rather than battle Sprint in a race to the bottom AT&T has leveraged his huge financial advantages (its market cap is more than 10 times Sprint’s) to avoid the price war, continued to improve its infrastructure and network quality, and ultimately wait Sprint out.
Fast forward in time; if Sprint’s pricing becomes unsustainable, and their network quality is subpar to AT&T’s…then consumers will be texting Goliath about returning to his side of the hill.
Rely on Your Team
What if, instead of demanding to fight one on one, Goliath had brought his entire Philistine army to fight the entire Israelite army?
We often hear of the joys of working at a startup – the individual responsibility and ownership, the common goals across teams, the crazy dream of someday taking down Goliath.
But, what if more industry leaders took the same approach? Brands such as Starbucks and Google are heralded for their employee centric cultures, but these are the exception to the rule.
To eliminate that flicker of possibility that they could lose, dominant players must continue to embrace the Davids’ approach, breaking down silos, empowering employees and ultimately creating a culture where everyone is pulling together to win.
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