Thursday, November 20, 2008

Strategy Lessons from a Kid with a Slingshot

The story of David and Goliath can tell small businesses a lot about corporate strategy.

As we read in The Bible (NRSV), 1st Samuel, Chapter 17, the Philistines entered Judah, intending to conquer the Israelites. At Socoh, they drew up battle lines to meet the Israelites who came to defend their territory. Each morning, the Philistines would send a giant warrior named Goliath, intimidating in size and menacing in personality, to challenge the Israelites. Goliath's objective was to goad one Israelite to come down into the valley to fight him. If the Philistine won, the Israelites would become their slaves. If the Israelite won, the Philistines would become their slaves. And unless this one-on-one match occurred quickly, a full battle would ensue with a tremendous loss of life.

Enter our hero, David, a teenager with brothers in Israel's army under King Saul. David hears Goliath's insults and wonders why no one will face the giant.

Word filters back to King Saul that someone actually wants to face Goliath. At first, Saul discourages David, reminding him of his youth, size and lack of military experience. David is not dissuaded. Since Saul is desperate for someone to fight Goliath, he permits David to fight. While Saul is reasonably certain the boy will be killed, he offers him battle attire to give him the best chance at surviving the Philistine'sattack. David declines Saul's armor and goes down into the valley to fight Goliath. On his way, he chooses five stones for his slingshot, which he puts inside his shepherd's bag. His only other weapon is his shepherd’s staff.

When our hero appears before Goliath, the giant is insulted that the Israelites have sent someone so young and inadequately armed. He threatens David, trying to intimidate him. David returns the verbal abuse, which perhaps rattles the giant somewhat, leading him to believe that this youth is either crazy or maybe even dangerous. Goliath walks toward David, hoping to grapple with him. At just the right moment, however, David places a stone in his sling, hurls it at the giant and strikes him in the forehead. The giant falls heavily and before he can recover, David is upon him. He takes Goliath's sword, decapitates him and holds the head high for all to see.

What wisdom can entrepreneurs, owners of small businesses and other “underdogs” learn from the shepherd with the slingshot? There are seven key lessons about strategy that can be gleaned from this story.

Be clear in your objective and why it's important. David felt Goliath had insulted God and the nation of Israel. Defending the honor of God and country became the supreme objective. Being on the side of “right” quieted the fear inside him.

View your strengths as broadly as possible.
This helps determine the best application of your core competence. Although David had no military training, he had killed bears and lions when they attacked his flock. He knew how to handle weapons and was not afraid of conflict.

Utilize resources that you trust.
When Saul tried to persuade David to fight Goliath in traditional military equipment, David insisted on using weapons he was familiar with. Judging from Goliath’s reaction, this may have been the Old Testament equivalent of a "psych."

Have a back-up plan.
David knew he might not hit the giant with his first rock, so he brought four more stones, just in case he might need them.

Don't let the competition define the rules of engagement.
Goliath kept approaching David, thinking he could get close enough to use his sword (and superior strength) against the boy and his shepherd's staff. David never let Goliath come close enough for the giant to use his superior strength against him.

Don't let the competition know exactly how you are going to attack them.
It may have been only when Goliath was within slingshot striking range that he even realized that David had a slingshot. Until David loaded the rock in the sling, Goliath may have thought David carried only a staff. (Bad intelligence gathering, Goliath.)

Once you achieve the first indication of success, follow through boldly to ensure complete victory.
As soon as the giant fell, David ran to him, took his sword and cut off his head. Proof of their hero’s death caused the Philistines to panic and flee, with the Israelites chasing them far from Socoh, the site of the giant’s defeat.

Too many “underdog” organizations let their larger rivals define the terms of engagement. David didn't let Goliath control the fight. Don't let your larger competitors define how you compete.

[This article first appeared in GSA Business. Photo used under the Creative Commons License courtesy of Flickr.]

No comments:

Post a Comment