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Turning Weakness Into Strength

A few months ago I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath — Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants…

It’s about battling the odds. Winning when there’s no way to win in sight.

The book opens with the legend of David and Goliath.

It’s 11 BCE at the valley of Elah. Before the mountains plunge into the valley, the Israelites huddle together on the ridge and look across the land to the Philistenes—an army of men from Crete who’ve come to fight them.

They stand patiently in the valley and look to the ridge of Israelites. They do not attack.

Instead, a small attendant with a shield walks forward. He leads a giant. The giant wears a bronze helmet and full body armor. He carries a spear and javelin, a sword on his hip.

This was to be a battle of “single combat.” A common practice in ancient warfare.

Two sides of a conflict seek to avoid the heavy bloodshed of a full-blown battle by choosing one warrior to fight on the behalf of his army.

The Israelites have no one to match the size and strength of this Philistine giant.

King Saul, the leader of the Israelites, doesn’t know what to do.

Then a shepherd boy who had come from Bethlehem to bring food to his brothers volunteers to fight.

King Saul protests. How could someone so small and without combat experience stand a chance against the ogre waiting in the valley?

The boy insists.

The King relents and lets the boy go. He offers the boy a sword, armor and a shield. But he will not take them. Instead he runs down to the valley with only his Shepherd’s stick and a sling in hand.

On his way down, he picks up 5 smooth stones and puts them in his shoulder bag.

The giant’s name is Goliath. The boy’s name is David.

Goliath starts laughing. He says, “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?”

He’s almost insulted that the Israelites would send someone so ill-matched for battle.

Meanwhile, David puts one of his stones into the leather pouch of his sling and hurls the projectile at Goliath’s forehead with the strength of a beretta m9 and the accuracy of a sniper rifle.

Skull Fracture. Right between the eyes. Goliath falls to his knees, dust erupts around him.

The small shepherd boy has defeated the armored giant. And the Israelites have won the battle against the Philistines.

Let’s apply this to modern day business.

There’s another chapter in Gladwell’s book where he talks about dyslexic CEO’s.

The fact that their struggle is their strength.

Because they have to work harder in different areas (crucial areas) like listening and speaking while everyone else is merrily skipping along through the standard curriculum.

And it turns out, the skills these dyslexic kids develop are pretty darn important when they reach adulthood… especially when it comes to business.

See, against all odds, David was sure of himself.

He wasn’t afraid to descend into the valley to fight the Goliath because he knew that he wouldn’t be fighting the way that everyone expected him to.

He knew that he had a secret no one else could touch.

And you, my friend, have a secret like this too.

What you may think is a weakness can be turned on a dime into a strength.

See, as a species we bond through struggle, through sharing our weaknesses… to build our circles of allies and confidants.

So, if you take whatever “secret weakness” you’ve got… and share it…

You will discover, you have an unfair advantage over everyone else in your market.

And here’s the thing…

If you take that weakness… blow it up… tell it loud and proud… make that skeleton dance…

It’ll only make you more powerful.

So, when you’re playing the game of business against opponents who seems to have an advantage over you…

Simply change the rules of the game.

5 Years Ago…

There’s a photograph of me from 5 years ago. 

I sit atop Huayna Picchu, a mountain overlooking the ancient aztec ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

The word that comes to mind every time I look at this photo is… Freedom.

I woke before dawn to climb the mountain.  My friends and I walked across stone steps laid thousands of years ago by a people who could not imagine the lives we live today.

As the sun rose across the mountains, I smiled and wondered if I would ever feel this free again.

Let me ask you a question.  Can you remember what you were doing 5 years ago? 

How did you feel about your station in life?  Your freedom?

What I remember most is my certainty, or as I like to call it, my shit-suredness.  Naive as I was, I never dreamed my life would take place anywhere but a mountain top.  Yet as the warmth of the sun washed over me, the view of the mountains all around me, dark valleys waited below.

On this mountain, so high up, the air felt different.  It tasted better. 

Everyone seemed to be on the same mission.  Scale the mountain.  See the scenery.  Breath the  fresh air and feel grateful for it all.  It did not matter what language you spoke or what country you came from. 

In the low valley, it was a different story. 

Uncommon smells ran off the thick brown river as hustlers and thieves worked-over tourists for their money.

Cramped busses and vans filled with people, packed tightly like a mother’s suitcase.  Everyone was irritable and arguing over who was sweating on who. 

In this photograph I am grateful to be at the mountaintop.  I was with people who loved me and who I loved back and far from the angst of the valley.

But if you are familiar with Newton’s third law, “what goes up, must come down” you know there is a story at the base of the mountain too.  A darker story.

It is a cliche to talk about mountains and valleys like the triumphs and failures of life.  For good reason.

When we say we are at the highest highs and the lowest lows, we might feel as if we are atop a glorious mountain or in the trenches of a dark valley.

While I look back to this photograph, almost exactly 5 years ago to the day I write this, I realize my ultimate motivation in life has not changed.  Nor do I think it will ever change.

Dear Friend, FREEDOM (screamed atop my lungs like William Wallace in Braveheart) is what I am after.

If you are on a similar search then this blog may be for you.

You are free to stay or go.  But I hope you will stay.

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