Tales of underdogs defeating stronger foes have woven a continuous thread of lore throughout human history. From David to the American Revolution, these stories have inspired many to stand up in the face of a stronger enemy. Yet, the most fascinating part of these tales is not that these underdogs were able to overcome insurmountable odds, it was that in most cases, they changed the odds by changing the game. Political scientist Ivan Arregui-Toft studied every war fought in the past 200 years, and he found that when weak combatants changed the rules of the game, they increased their win percentage from 28.5% to 63.6%. Incredible. So, the key lesson here is that if you look weak, it may be because you are being measured by someone else’s yardstick.
Small businesses, in particular, can take heed of this advice in many ways. Many of us feel like David when it comes to competing with big businesses, but perhaps that’s because we are playing by their rules. One of the most famous of this would be Craigslist. Started as an email newsletter amongst friends back in 1995, Craigslist has grown tremendously to the point now that it has significantly eroded the ability of traditional newspapers to make money on classified advertisements. How did it achieve such success? By recognizing that it was not necessary to play by the rules established by the established powers (ie. you must charge every person a fee to publish content), Craigslist was able to create a better, more-efficient product that grew wildly, and at the same time, build a thriving business by charging for the ads where it made sense, in the jobs and real estate sections. The newspapers clung to the old ways of doing business, and as a result, are scrambling now to survive.
So, to succeed like the Redwood City basketball team, Craigslist and David:
- Figure out your strengths.
- Change the rules to suit your strengths.
- Work hard and aim well.
Photo by Scott Feldstein.