Goliath was the underdog – and the fact we believe otherwise teaches us a valuable lesson.

Posted Email this article

In his 2014 book ‘David and Goliath’, Malcolm Gladwell opens with a fascinatingly simple demonstration that the famous biblical tale is one of the most misunderstood ideas in history. Far from being the plucky underdog, David was never going to lose that fight – and understanding why tells us a lot about the power of information.

On the face of it, David’s victory is an extraordinary one. Goliath, a mighty veteran warrior standing 9 feet tall, dressed in full armour and brandishing a sword is defeated by a diminutive young shepherd boy, dressed in a simple tunic and carrying only his shepherd’s staff, a sling and a pouch of stones.

But David did win, and once you look at the facts it’s easy to see why.

Had they been engaged in hand-to-hand combat there is no question as to who the winner would have been. Goliath would have cut down the defenseless David with a single swing of his mighty sword. But the thing is, David never got close enough to make it a fair fight.

Instead, he stayed out of range of that sword and used his amazing sling skills, honed through years of defending his flock against predators, to fire a stone at incredible speed directly at Goliath’s head. David was armed with a ballistic weapon and Goliath wasn’t.

In short, the big man brought a knife to a gun fight.

And herein lies the reason that this story is such a great metaphor for business. It’s a perfect example of where an anecdotal understanding of a situation turns out to be completely wrong when we look at the actual facts.

When it comes to understanding how our business is performing, where the problems lie and how to fix them, more often than not we simply don’t have all the data at hand to make an informed decision.

How much could you stand to improve your operations if you knew more about how your processes and resources were performing? How many more sales would you win if you knew everything about your customers?

We live in what’s increasingly being referred to as the ‘information age’.

More data has been created in the last two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. Yet our ability to access and analyse the data our organization produces is too often limited by disconnected systems and slow-moving IT.

Software solutions that provide us with the ability to easily (and quickly) capture and report on the data we hold have some of the highest and most demonstrable ROI of any investment. They provide the information upon which business decisions should be made – after all, how can we improve our processes if we don’t know where to start?

Yet despite all this, a 2015 report by Forrester suggests spend on BI and Information Management systems makes up less than 8% of total enterprise IT investment. Businesses are still relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence rather than looking at the facts.

Brad Pitt, playing the revolutionary baseball coach Billy Bean in the film Moneyball put it best. When told ‘We’re trying to solve the problem here Billy’ by an old-school scout who had no interest in the numbers and analytics game that baseball was about to become he responds ‘Not like this you’re not. You’re not even looking at the problem’. And that, is the problem.