Just finished reading David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (note: affiliated link) by Malcolm Gladwell.

The key premise of the book is that things are not what they seem to be. More specifically, using a number of real life examples, it demonstrates how situations they seem to be advantageous are really (in some circumstances) an indication of disadvantage and similarly, situations where the odds seem to be stacked against the main character result in a favorite outcome.

The book also questions the notion that bigger challenges require a stronger response (such as the natural tendency to apply more and stronger policing in situations where there is an apparent increase in crime) and introduces the notion of the U Curve, suggesting that doing more of something results in positive results, but only up to a point. Doing more of that thing after that point could result in negative consequences. The concept is easy to understand and to apply. For example, communicating with project stakeholders can result in tangible benefits as stakeholders are comfortable that the project is adequately managed. More communication could also be beneficial, but up to a point. If you swamp them with too much or too frequent information you will likely lose their good will and their attention. Just an example.

Think about it!


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  1. Interesting notion…mind you we learn in staffing projects, the rule of diminishing returns in increasing resources allocated – not only are the added-on resources less efficient, but the team as a whole can exhibit less productivity per head. This can arise the the overhead of managing communication, and “coal-face” issues, too many people working on closely-related tasks, so any delay can have a magnified impact across the team

    In a similar vein, we see the idea of a U-curve when trying to compress schedules. As a rule of thumb, decreasing duration by one third (i.e. 2/3 of the original duration, requires an inversely proportional increase in staff, i.e. 3/2 times the baseline.


    • The notion of the U Curve is an interesting one, teaching us that our intuitions are correct but only up to a point. Requires us to contemplate more on the risk consequences of our actions.


  2. Shim, my favourite example from the book concerns Ivy League university education. Gladwell makes the interesting point that attending Harvard or Oxford carries a penalty – it is difficult to be creative and make “outlier” style accomplishments in that context.

    I certainly agree that there is a point of diminishing returns with more communication on projects.


    • Great example Bruce. Should be read by all parents pushing their children to choose Ivey Leauge universities over 2nd tier ones. I certainly learned a lot from this types of examples.


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