Stop Complaining: Data Shows Being an Underdog is Actually an Advantage

Stop being a self-defeating sissy. Study shows underdogs have a 63.6% chance of winning. Or in other words, if America and Canada duke it out, bet on Canada.

July 8, 2015
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Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath.

Goliath is a giant, alpha, (most likely hairy) beast of a man who’s killed by David, the scrawny, nobody, sissy underdog.

The thing is…even though this story is suppose to be about an unlikely underdog overcoming the odds to win, the data suggests that we’ve interpreted the story all wrong. In his book David vs. Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell breaks down the biblical story. The outcome? Being the underdog is, in many ways, an advantage.

This is Malcolm Gladwell (in case you didn’t know)

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of Gladwell’s claims are crap, but this one’s interesting nonetheless. Check out this study he cites in his book:

“Suppose you were to total up all the wars over the past two hundred years that occurred between very large and very small countries. Let’s say that one side has to be at least ten times larger in population and armed might than the other. How often do you think the bigger side wins?

Most of us, I think, would put that number at close to 100 percent. A tenfold difference is a lot. But the actual answer may surprise you. When the political scientist Ivan Arreguin-Toft did the calculation a few years ago, what he came up with was 71.5 percent. Just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins.

Arreguin-Toft then asked the question slightly differently. What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight, using unconventional or guerrilla tactics?

The answer: in those cases, the weaker party’s winning percentage climbs from 28.5 percent to 63.6 percent.

To put that in perspective, the United States’ population is ten times the size of Canada’s. If the two countries went to war and Canada chose to fight unconventionally, history would suggest that you ought to put your money on Canada.”

Malcolm Gladwell, David vs. Goliath

Moral of the story? If you consider yourself the underdog, the best way to shift the odds in your favor isn’t to fight fair, but differently.

This month, we’re exploring folks who have done just that: won big by rigging the game so that the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. I’m talking about folks who bring a magic freakin’ wand to a knife fight. They disregard the rules so that they don’t just win, but obliterate the competition, even if they’re underfunded, weak, or small.

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