Malcolm Gladwell has written an article in the New Yorker, “How David Beats Goliath”, that focuses on how the underdog can often win, for example, citing surprising war engagements and unlikely sports victories. Perhaps we could call this solely “brains over brawn”, yet this is only part of the story. He makes the point that effort can trump superior skill. It brought to mind my first experience playing soccer when a freshman in high school. We had a very inexperienced team, and a new coach who admitted that he knew little about soccer. Since he couldn’t teach us much about the game itself, he focused most of our attention on building endurance. He told us we weren’t going to lose any games because the opponents had more stamina than we did. Amazingly, we had a very good season.
There are countless examples of seemingly inferior teams defeating stronger foes, by calling upon unusual tactics or sheer determination. Motivation can lead to individuals and groups to rise above their norm, creating chemistry and disorienting the opposition. Opponents who are use to succeeding easily can become flustered when their usual methods are thwarted. At that point, they may begin to doubt their capacity, and press too hard. It is what occurs when “momentum” shifts. Gladwell also highlights that it is the willingness to be creative, and not to meet the opponents using their preferred strategy, that can ultimately succeed, since “when underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win”. He describes how David had to call upon his own skills with the slingshot, rather than accept a doomed battle fought with strength and military training.
Before large artillery and planes, warfare was fought at close quarters, typically with the combatants having the largest number of soldiers winning. Clearly then, fighting a battle with each side losing one for one is not a useful format for the smaller army. It is why the Minutemen defeated the highly trained Redcoats, who had learned to form straight lines. They had little response to the guerilla tactics. It is one of the reasons that both the French and American forces lost in Indochina/Vietnam – the enemy used “hit and run” tactics, and neither of the Western countries grasped that the Chinese/Vietnamese would wait a thousand years to win, a timeframe that no occupying country could tolerate.
In his book, “Home Team”, Coach Sean Payton of the Saints describes his strategy in the Superbowl against the Indianapolis Colts. He knew that quarterback Peyton Manning was masterful at picking teams apart, so he focused on ways to limit the number of plays that Manning would have available. His gamble to begin the second half with an onside kick which the Saints recovered was brilliant, and part of his overall plan to keep the ball out of Manning’s capable hands. By the time the Colts righted themselves, the Saints were ahead, forcing Manning to press to win the game. Those who watched, witnessed the Saints interception which sealed the victory. Payton cites his mentor Bill Parcells as saying that “the real credit comes when you arrive at a disadvantage – and you still win”. He analyzed opponents strengths and liabilities, and could devise a game plan which exploited the weaknesses. I like his phrase, “fresh analysis beat conventional thinking every time. No preconceived notions.”
Edinbergh, Scotland has a wonderful fort high up on the rocks overlooking the city with a sheer drop on one side. The fort was always well defended from the obvious front, however the eventual occupiers performed the seemingly impossible task of finding a way to scale the mountain side. Similarly, the Conquistadors subdued the entire Aztec nation with only 300 men by riding into the Aztec city like conquerors who were already victorious. The Spanish soldiers did have horses and steel weapons, however they would have been clearly overwhelmed had the Aztecs not been so disoriented and frightened.
In summary, if seemingly underpowered or overmatched, an individual or group must either be willing to generate more energy and effort, thereby outdoing the motivation of the opposition, or they must be able to implement a creative strategy, and certainly not engage in the preferred method of their opponent. So, to answer the original question, I guess it is best to work “smarter and harder”, but certainly at least one of the two. Good to know!
Jayson DeLeaumount, DPT