David & Goliath – a guide for winning political campaigns

I just re-read Malcom Gladwell’s “David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.’

I think the David & Goliath story provides essential lessons in political campaigning.

I have pasted the scripture below.

A Political Campaigners Guidebook

Gladwell’s book is “about what happens when ordinary people confronts giants … powerful opponents of all kinds” and defeat them.

I’ve worked on campaigns when a less than a handful of dedicated men and women took on the politically powerful Blue Fin Tuna industry and won. I read with wry amusement the industry’s belief that they were taking on an army.

I’ve seen campaigns take on most powerful of vested interests challenge Governments and industry and force them to backtrack on entrenched decisions. For years I wondered how that earth-quake happened. And, years later I have spoken to the 1 individual behind it all who organised that change. He even wrote a book about it.

I’ve seen the most powerful, wealthy and politically connected interests get taken down by a seeming rag-bag coalition of interests. I think to this day they have now idea how it all happened.

Over time, I noticed a theme, and realised that Bible’s David & Goliath had taught me some powerful political campaigning lessons.


10 Lessons to Take Away

 I draw 10 lessons:

  1. Smarter technology wins
    Goliath was all tooled up, David had a stone and slingshot. David had the smart technology needed to  do the job and win. All too often, a simple tweet can win the day.
  2. Quick & responsive
    David was not part of Saul’s army. He heard Goliath’s challenge and took it. Waiting too long and reacting too late, or not at all, is too often a recipe for political disaster.
  3. Don’t play by the other sides rules
    If you think the other side are going to play by your rules, you are wrong.  You need to adapt your thinking to win. Most won’t and indeed can’t. A simple shepherd boy played by his rules and defeated the greatest warrior of his time.
  4. You don’t need an army, you need one (or a few) who can do what needs to be done
    A shepherd boy won, not an army. The greatest political campaign victories  I have seen have involved just a handful of men and women. The more people deciding things, the more ineffective things get.
  5. Committee meetings don’t help much
    The greatest of campaigning organisations have destroyed themselves by adopting a love affair for Committee meetings. Banish them. Have a war room and nothing else. If the War Room becomes a claustrophobic Committee meeting, shut it down.
  6. You just have to win once
    People seem to forget this. Victory is needed only once. It sets a trend which soon enough become the norm.
  7. Courage and action are vital
    David showed courage. He killed a lion to save a sheep. He went out and did what had to be done. I have seen colleagues go out and take on the mafia without fear. It’s what is needed. It is hard to find.
  8. Size does not matter
    A giant is easy to take down. They don’t think they are, but David knew better.
  9. Adapt quickly
    Too many NGOs have adopted the group think of management consultancies that they brought in to reform their operations.  I think this thinking  is crippling their effectiveness as campaigning organisations. It is leading to new campaigning NGOs to emerge, ones that adapt quickly, and win.  Organisations like Bloom in France,  do amazing things.
  10. Go all out to win
    David went out and won. He had supreme confidence. He just saw a giant with obvious vulnerabilities. It is possible to do.


Can Goliath Win?

Can Goliath win?  For a start, he could have used his shield when David cast his stone.

Is there a system to avoid the same fate as Goliath. I think there is, I have used it with some clients and they won.

But, the truth is too few will ever want to do what it takes to avoid Goliath’s fate. Like chemo, it is not easy to digest, but you are likely to come out the other side alive.


Samuel 1:17

1 Samuel 17New International Version (NIV)

David and Goliath

17 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span.[a] He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[b]; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels.[c] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war: The firstborn was Eliab; the second, Abinadab; and the third, Shammah. 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.

16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand.

17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah[d] of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance[e] from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.”

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.”

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.”

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with angerat him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before.31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescuedme from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.

51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath[f] and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.

54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?”

Abner replied, “As surely as you live, Your Majesty, I don’t know.”

56 The king said, “Find out whose son this young man is.”

57 As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.

58 “Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him.

David said, “I am the son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem.”