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How do underdogs win?

An underdog is a “participant in a fight, conflict, or game who is not expected to win”

If you like sports, history, technology and Bible stories, you might want to read the fascinating article, How David Beats Goliath, in the New Yorker on May 11, 2009. Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point and Outliers fame) explains how it is possible that underdogs can win against overwhelming odds.

The key is that underdogs must acknowledge their weakness and choose an unconventional strategy. Gladwell cited the research by Arreguin-Toft, How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2005) with the following comment, “When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.” Underdogs must “challenge the conventions about how battles are supposed to be fought.”

In a review of Arreguin-Toft’s book, Michael A. Jensen in International Studies Review (2006) provides one conclusion from Arreguin-Toft about the use of indirect versus direct strategies.  “Indirect strategies seek to destroy an opponent’s will to continue fighting through tactics such as barbarism (the systematic targeting of noncombatants), guerilla warfare, terrorism, conciliation, or nonviolence.”

Gladwell weaves throughout his article, the story of how an inexperienced girl’s basketball team with an inexperienced coach ends up in the final championship game of their league.  How did they do it?  They decided that their team “would play a real full-court press, every game, all the time.”

In a similar way, you learn how David beat Goliath by using an unconventional strategy.

I wonder if there is something here for those of us in cross-cultural or counter-cultural ministry?

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