If your business has weaknesses which are hard to change, don’t try to wish them away.  Instead, use them to clarify and fuel your game plan for success.

Some of your weaknesses may have the potential to be used as strengths, and the rest can be used to sharpen your focus and lull your competitors into a false sense of superiority.

Consider the case of David and Goliath, which Malcolm Gladwell analyzes in his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

David, a civilian boy, armed only with a sling and a wooden staff, goes up against Goliath, a giant-sized, seasoned warrior with heavy armor and traditional weapons.

At first glance, David appears to be hopelessly outmatched.  He’s smaller, without armor, weaker, and not formally trained as a soldier.

However, these weaknesses could be considered useful in some way:

  • His smaller stature made him a more difficult target for Goliath to hit. His lack of armor gave him an edge in maneuverability.
  • His lack of strength, while not a direct advantage, may have helped him narrow his focus on tactics other than out-muscling Goliath.
  • His lack of formal battle training belied the fact that he’d been trained in an unconventional, yet highly effective manner for this situation: he’d spent years defending his flock from attacks by wild animals using his sling.

Goliath taunts David, who quickly defeats him with a single stone shot from his sling.  For all his apparent weaknesses, David won the battle instantly and decisively.

Lessons for business

How do these lessons apply to businesses?

  • Many weaknesses can be strengths if viewed through the right lens. Take a business’s size, for instance.  A small business may view its size as a disadvantage since it has fewer resources than a Fortune 500 company, yet it’s inherently more agile.  In contrast, a large business may lament its inability to make quick decisions, but once committed to a specific objective its impact can be more powerful than that of a smaller business.  For every weakness you encounter, think about how it could be used to your advantage.
  • Some weaknesses aren’t strengths, but limited options sharpen your focus. Some weaknesses are simply not strengths and don’t have silver linings.  But they can still be put to good use.  Did you miss being first, or even second to market on a game-changing new technology?  While not ideal, this unchangeable situation can be used to help you create a strategic plan faster than if all options remained available.
  • Being an underdog keep you humble, guarding against overconfidence. As an underdog, not only will you not receive buzz and hype before you’ve earned it, you may be actively doubted even after you’ve begun to succeed.  Your advantage: you’ll stay humble longer, run less risk of being overconfident, and learn to be more resilient.
  • There’s a good chance your competition won’t see you coming. Competitors who use traditional measures of strength or rely only on press reports may look past you.  This shrinks the competitive target on your back and gives you room to build products, your team, and grow a client base before competitors begin to take notice and respond.

There’s a reason the word “underdogs” in the title of this post is in quotation marks: Businesses that at first glance may have glaring weaknesses by traditional measures may be able to use those very same weaknesses to win.  They may have some disadvantages, but they might not be underdogs at all.

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