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The 7 Effective Characteristics for the Winning Underdog

The business world loves their champions; the true success stories, the power and the money. But, we all love the legendary winning underdogs! What we love most about the underdog is the true grit required to achieve that success: overcoming odds, surviving chaos and working really hard to win. We root for them, bet on them and tell their stories time and time again. And there has never been one told more often than David and Goliath.

Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer at The New Yorker, and author of Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, combines reporting, academic research and anedocdotal evidence in his theories, which, ‘connect the dots in startling, often counterintuitive ways’ referring to an article in MacLean’s. In his latest book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, he makes the case that obstacles of all kinds are generally benefits to be desired, especially in business. Gladwell points out “People can lack resources and power and all kinds of material blessings, but they are forced to develop their wits.”

He offers a refreshing way of interpreting what it means to be discriminated against, or cope with a disability, or lose a parent, or attend a mediocre school, or suffer from any number of apparent setbacks.  According to Gladwell, turning disadvantages into advantages is the model of success for underdogs in business. Furthermore, Gladwell challenges the way we think about obstacles and disadvantages. He suggests that we have a definition in our heads about what a disadvantage is, and that definition isn’t always right. When we think of a giant Goliath against the ever so small David, we assume that the giant will always win. No so. David, with his simple sling shot, manages to defeat the spear welding, clunking armour wearing giant.

Bigger is only better up to a point (and so is smaller).

Here are 7 characteristics of the winning little guy:

  1. They have earned the Underdog title. Also known as ‘street creed’, they can demonstrate how they are the underdog, they maintain an honourable reputation and they play by the rules.
  2. The underdog does everything in person. They don’t rely on Facebook or Twitter to get them through. They go face-to-face with powerful influences.
  3. They have grit. They are courageous and resolute and they go for it with determination.
  4. They are empathetic. Successful underdogs make it their business to know the value system of the prospects. Let’s put it this way, they have been there.
  5. Winning underdogs don’t work alone. They have a great team they rely on, the team is made up of leaders, well connected people and people who used to be the opposition.
  6. They are good at building and keeping relationships. Managing those important relationships is key to long-term success.
  7. They are passionate and likable.

In business, what counts most is not always the strength of the opponent, but how the little guy uses his disadvantages to his advantage. In Forbes magazine, contributing writer Steve Olenski asks the question Can the little guy go toe-to-toe with the big guys?  Surprisingly, yes. The article points out ‘When it comes to the world of marketing and branding and advertising and all that good stuff, the stark reality is a smaller brand is truly the embodiment of David battling the significantly larger brands, Goliath.’ And, absolutely key to that success is “if you are a new brand or a startup going against the Goliaths, you’ve got to establish WHO your customer is.”

Although at times it may seem that only the most powerful, wealthy and connected people win – thankfully, the David’s in this world give us underdogs hope of overcoming our obstacles, rethinking our disadvantages and achieving our true success in the end. Go for it!




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