Mediocrity is for losers

Mediocrity is very common, it means being average. Average people are average. Mediocrity is for losers.

The reason mediocrity is for losers is given the choice of five places to eat lunch, are you going to pick the mediocre one? Given the choice of five people to hire, are you going to pick the mediocre one?

In fact a world filled with millions of choices who picks average, nobody.

The big win is when you refuse to settle for average, for mediocre.>

The Unheard Story of David and Goliath: Underdogs and the Art of Battling Giants

One of the most fascinating stories of our times that I read about in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book David and Goliath and after doing my own mini-research is a story of something that happened 3,000 years ago, when the Kingdom of Israel was in its infancy. And it takes place in an area called the Shephelah in what is now Israel. And the reason the story obsessed me is that I thought I understood it, and then I went back over it and I realised that I didn’t understand it at all.

Ancient Palestine had along its eastern border, a mountain range. That mountain range still exists today. And in the mountain range are all of the ancient cities of that region, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron. And then there’s a coastal plain along the Mediterranean, where Tel Aviv is now. And connecting the mountain range with the coastal plain is an area called the Shephelah, which is a series of valleys and ridges that run east to west, and you can follow the Shephelah, go through the Shephelah to get from the coastal plain to the mountains. And the Shephelah, if you’ve been to Israel, is said to be the most beautiful part of Israel, with its gorgeous forests of oak and wheat fields and vineyards.

But more importantly, though, in the history of that region, it’s served, it’s had a real strategic function, and that is, it is the means by which hostile armies on the coastal plain find their way, get up into the mountains and threaten those living in the mountains. And 3,000 years ago, that’s exactly what happens. The Philistines, who are the biggest of enemies of the Kingdom of Israel, are living in the coastal plain. They’re originally from Crete. They’re a seafaring people. And they start to make their way through one of the valleys of the Shephelah up into the mountains, because what they want to do is occupy the highland area right by Bethlehem and split the Kingdom of Israel in two. And the Kingdom of Israel, which is headed by King Saul, obviously hears of this, and Saul brings his army down from the mountains and he confronts the Philistines in the Valley of Elah, one of the most beautiful of the valleys of the Shephelah. And the Israelites dig in along the northern ridge, and the Philistines dig in along the southern ridge, and the two armies just sit there for weeks and stare at each other, because they’re deadlocked. Neither can attack the other, because to attack the other side you’ve got to come down the mountain into the valley and then up the other side, and you’re completely exposed.

So finally, to break the deadlock, the Philistines send their mightiest warrior down into the valley floor, and he calls out and he says to the Israelites, “Send your mightiest warrior down, and we’ll have this out, just the two of us.”

This was a tradition in ancient warfare called single combat. It was a way of settling disputes without incurring the bloodshed of a major battle. And the Philistine who is sent down, their mighty warrior, is a giant. He’s 6 foot 9. He’s outfitted head to toe in this glittering bronze armor, and he’s got a sword and he’s got a javelin and he’s got his spear. He is absolutely terrifying. And he’s so terrifying that none of the Israelite soldiers want to fight him. It’s a death wish, right? There’s no way they think they can take him.

And finally the only person who will come forward is this young shepherd boy, and he goes up to Saul and he says, “I’ll fight him.”

And Saul says, “You can’t fight him. That’s ridiculous. You’re this kid. This is this mighty warrior.”

But the shepherd is adamant. He says, “No, no, no, you don’t understand, I have been defending my flock against lions and wolves for years. I think I can do it.”

And Saul has no choice. He’s got no one else who’s come forward. So he says, “All right.” And then he turns to the kid, and he says, “But you’ve got to wear this armor. You can’t go as you are.”

So he tries to give the shepherd his armor, and the shepherd says, “No.” He says, “I can’t wear this stuff.” The Biblical verse is, “I cannot wear this for I have not proved it,” meaning, “I’ve never worn armor before. You’ve got to be crazy.”

So he reaches down instead on the ground and picks up five stones and puts them in his shepherd’s bag and starts to walk down the mountainside to meet the giant. And the giant sees this figure approaching, and calls out, “Come to me so I can feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field.” He issues this kind of taunt towards this person coming to fight him. And the shepherd draws closer and closer, and the giant sees that he’s carrying a staff. That’s all he’s carrying. Instead of a weapon, just this shepherd’s staff, and he says (he’s insulted) “Am I a dog that you would come to me with sticks?”

And the shepherd boy takes one of his stones out of his pocket, puts it in his sling and rolls it around and lets it fly and it hits the giant right between the eyes, right here, in his most vulnerable spot, and he falls down either dead or unconscious, and the shepherd boy runs up and takes his sword and cuts off his head, and the Philistines see this and they turn and they just run.

And of course, the name of the giant is Goliath and the name of the shepherd boy is David, and the reason that story is interesting is that everything I thought I knew about that story turned out to be wrong.

So David, in that story, is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger. Now why do we call David an underdog? Well, we call him an underdog because he’s a kid, a little kid, and Goliath is this big, strong giant. We also call him an underdog because Goliath is an experienced warrior, and David is just a shepherd. But most importantly, we call him an underdog because all he has is, it’s that Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armor and a sword and a javelin and a spear, and all David has is this sling.

Well, let’s start there with the phrase “All David has is this sling,” because that’s the first mistake that we make. In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There’s cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots. There’s heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armor. And there’s artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target. That’s what David has, and it’s important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot. It’s not a child’s toy. It’s in fact an incredibly devastating weapon. When David rolls it around like this, he’s turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it’s going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. That’s substantially faster than a baseball thrown by even the finest of baseball pitchers. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulphate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistics, on the stopping power of the rock fired from David’s sling, it’s roughly equal to the stopping power of a [.45 caliber] handgun. This is an incredibly devastating weapon. Accuracy, we know from historical records that slingers, experienced slingers could hit and maim or even kill a target at distances of up to 200 yards. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight. They were incredibly accurate. When David lines up, and he’s not 200 yards away from Goliath, he’s quite close to Goliath, when he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most vulnerable spot between his eyes. If you go back over the history of ancient warfare, you will find time and time again that slingers were the decisive factor against infantry in one kind of battle or another.

So what’s Goliath? He’s heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he’s going to be fighting another heavy infantryman. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the key phrase is “Come to me.” Come up to me because we’re going to fight, hand to hand, like this. Saul has the same expectation. David says, “I want to fight Goliath,” and Saul tries to give him his armor, because Saul is thinking, “Oh, when you say ‘fight Goliath,’ you mean ‘fight him in hand-to-hand combat,’ infantry on infantry.”

But David has absolutely no expectation. He’s not going to fight him that way. Why would he? He’s a shepherd. He’s spent his entire career using a sling to defend his flock against lions and wolves. That’s where his strength lies. So here he is, this shepherd, experienced in the use of a devastating weapon, up against this lumbering giant weighed down by a hundred pounds of armor and these incredibly heavy weapons that are useful only in short-range combat. Goliath is a sitting duck. He doesn’t have a chance. So why do we keep calling David an underdog, and why do we keep referring to his victory as improbable?

There’s a second piece of this that’s important. It’s not just that we misunderstand David and his choice of weaponry. It’s also that we profoundly misunderstand Goliath. Goliath is not what he seems to be. There’s all kinds of hints of this in the Biblical text, things that are in retrospect quite puzzling and don’t square with his image as this mighty warrior. So to begin with, the Bible says that Goliath is led onto the valley floor by an attendant. Now that is weird, right? Here is this mighty warrior challenging the Israelites to one-on-one combat. Why is he being led by the hand by some young boy, presumably, to the point of combat? Secondly, the Bible story makes special note of how slowly Goliath moves, another odd thing to say when you’re describing the mightiest warrior known to man at that point. And then there’s this whole weird thing about how long it takes Goliath to react to the sight of David. So David’s coming down the mountain, and he’s clearly not preparing for hand-to-hand combat. There is nothing about him that says, “I am about to fight you like this.” He’s not even carrying a sword. Why does Goliath not react to that? It’s as if he’s oblivious to what’s going on that day. And then there’s that strange comment he makes to David: “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?” Sticks? David only has one stick.

Well, it turns out that there’s been a great deal of speculation within the medical community over the years about whether there is something fundamentally wrong with Goliath, an attempt to make sense of all of those apparent anomalies. There have been many articles written. The first one was in 1960 in the Indiana Medical Journal, and it started a chain of speculation that starts with an explanation for Goliath’s height. So Goliath is head and shoulders above all of his peers in that era, and usually when someone is that far out of the norm, there’s an explanation for it. So the most common form of giantism is a condition called acromegaly, and acromegaly is caused by a benign tumor on your pituitary gland that causes an overproduction of human growth hormone. And throughout history, many of the most famous giants have all had acromegaly. So the tallest person of all time was a guy named Robert Wadlow who was still growing when he died at the age of 24 and he was 8 foot 11. He had acromegaly. There’s even speculation that Abraham Lincoln had acromegaly. Anyone who’s unusually tall, that’s the first explanation we come up with. And acromegaly has a very distinct set of side effects associated with it, principally having to do with vision. The pituitary tumor, as it grows, often starts to compress the visual nerves in your brain, with the result that people with acromegaly have either double vision or they are profoundly near-sighted.

So when people have started to speculate about what might have been wrong with Goliath, they’ve said, “Wait a minute, he looks and sounds an awful lot like someone who has acromegaly.” And that would also explain so much of what was strange about his behavior that day. Why does he move so slowly and have to be escorted down into the valley floor by an attendant? Because he can’t make his way on his own. Why is he so strangely oblivious to David that he doesn’t understand that David’s not going to fight him until the very last moment? Because he can’t see him. When he says, “Come to me that I might feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field,” the phrase “come to me” is a hint also of his vulnerability. Come to me because I can’t see you. And then there’s, “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?” He sees two sticks when David has only one.

So the Israelites up on the mountain ridge looking down on him thought he was this extraordinarily powerful foe.

What they didn’t understand was that the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness.

And there is, I think, in that, a very important lesson for all of us.

Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.

Another blog post that can assist with battling giants is:
Eating the Big Fish:

1 Samuel 16:7
1 Samuel 17 “West-minister Theological Journal 68 (2006): 321 – 30.
“The Valley of Elah Battle and the Duel of David with Goliath: Between History and Artistic Theological Historiography”
Homeland and Exile (Brill, 2009)
International Symposium on Ballistics (Jerusalem, May 21-24, 1995)
Moshe Dayan’s essay about David and Goliath, “Spirit of the Fighters,” appears in Courageous Actions – Twenty Years of Independence 11 (1968): 50 – 52.
Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

The question every small business must ask

Question to Answer
If you are running a small business I think you have to make a choice. Are you going to be a junior, smaller version of a big business, if you make that choice, you are likely to fail. You cannot be cheaper than big companies, you cannot be better at following policies than them. You cannot have more salespeople on the street than they do.

Too many small businesses look in the media and say I want to grow up and be big like that business. But successful small businesses are not smaller versions of big business. They are the work of a human being and that is your advantage. The advantage is that the owner, the CEO will answer the phone. The advantage is that you can change a policy, actually who needs a policy when you have six employees. Just do what’s right for the customer. The big company cannot do that.

The magic here, the great thing about the small business is the main thing you have to work the hardest on doesn’t cost any money, the thing you have to work the hardest on is to have the guts to fail in the small.

To fail in the small again and again until you learn how to get it right and to scale that connection, that rightness over and over again as you make an impact.

A lot of business leaders, small business people in particular point to how many people are working for them, how big is their retail footprint, how big is their bank balance. These are things that are artefacts of the industrial economy. The River Rouge plant that Henry Ford built was so big that in the morning you could start walk in and you would not be to the other end before the day was out. The plant had ships, a train rail track, a big furnace, etc. That’s what industrialist do, they smooth things out.

But that’s not what we need small businesses to do. What the market is saying to small businesses is that it doesn’t care how many people work for you, we care about how you are moving things around in a way that works for us as your customers. So you have to make this decision as a small business not to invest in fancier machines, you can lease or outsource all that stuff easy now, but to invest in the most difficult work of caring about people, about your customers and small staff.

Why most businesses misunderstand the internet

Most people misunderstand the internet because they think it’s like TV. They think the job of the internet is to be like what it used to be but for free. If you view your website, or your banner ad, your YouTube videos, or your twitter account as more chances to hell at more people with your message, you will fail.

In fact what the internet is all about is about connecting people to one another. That’s why it’s called the INTER-NET. The connections means, if your restaurant treats one person poorly, they are going to tell ten thousands people, the connections means if you can connect your customers to one another, you will create a circle of people who can make a change. It means no one types your website address to find you, they type it into Google and if Google doesn’t recognise you, you are not connected, and therefore are invisible. It’s about being connected to one another.

The internet is no longer about pushing your message to more customers as far as possible, but it’s about creating connections, about connecting your customers and connecting yourself to them.

Don’t disturb strangers with your message rather speak to people who want to listen to you.

Avoid using spam, refer to this blog post about taking a giant-step (backward)

Make your own path

Own Path
Success is a funny thing. A lot of people who want it are looking for a map, looking for instructions, looking for a step by step way to get from where they are to where they want to be. For a long time, the way to do that was to follow in someone else’s footsteps, to look at what someone else was doing and do what they were doing, to follow the leader. To out-work them, absolutely but to follow in a well trodden path.

That worked for the entire industrial age. It worked if you were selling insurance, it worked if you were starting a company and it worked if you were working for a big company.

Now the rules have fundamentally changed. They have changed because our culture has changed, our economy has changed. Now you have to make your own path.

Now you have to climb your own ladder, now the step by step by step is not about following the person who came before you. It’s about making the choice to initiate, to lead, to do something new.

I know it’s scary, that’s why it’s rare. The scarcity of it makes it valuable. What we are waiting for is for you to do what you are capable of, for you to do what all of us are here to do, which is to make a difference, which is to do work worth doing.

The industrial age is over.

In the connection economy you pick yourself, don’t wait for someone to pick you. If you have written a book, you don’t need a publisher to pick you, you can publish it yourself. If you want to write, write. If you want to sing, sing. If you want to start a movement, start a movement.

For more on the end of the industrial refer to this blog post:

Observe those little birds that clean the teeth of very big hippos

My daughter was blown away by the hippo at the Pretoria Zoo. This giant rhino, bigger than a typical 4×4, with its mouth open, and there, in the mouth of the beast, are a bunch of little birds.

“What are the birds doing in the hippo, Dad?” She wanted to know. As always, I told her more than she probably wanted to know. I explained that the birds eat the bugs the rhino canʼt get to. The birds are happy because they get an easy meal. And the rhino is happily bug-free.

Thereʼs a lot a startup entrepreneurs can learn from these little birds. By creating a mutually beneficial relationship with a hippo, you can make a lot of money, generate credibility, and avoid being eaten.

Find bigger, richer, more stable company. Partner with them. It gives you credibility and
access and sometimes, cash flow.

Is it that easy? No, not really, it takes commitment and concentration, but its a great place to start.

Own your dreams

If you announce what you want, if you are clear about what’s on offer, if you set goals:

– the chances of accomplishing your goal go up, and so does
– the chance that you will be disappointed

For many people, apparently, it’s better to not get what you want than it is to be disappointed. The resistance is powerful indeed.

Every time you use waffle words, back off from a clear statement of values and priorities, and, most of all, think about what’s likely instead of what’s possible, you are selling yourself out. Not just selling yourself out, but doing it too cheaply.

Own your dreams. There is no better way to make them happen.