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Not a sword; only stones for David’s defence: David’s and Goliath’s dynamics of success

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  • Analogy: lessons for competing businesses
  • Strategies and tactics of winning war: businesses implications

By Dhinesha Ruwanthi Perera

In the Biblical context, the story of David and Goliath depicts dynamics of winning cultures in a battlefield. Goliath, a Palestinian was a strong man. His strength was measured through braveness, attire and histories of winning battles against the Israelites. Consistent defiance of Israeli forces was a significant sign of his braveness. Clad with bronze armour, Goliath was an epitome of military power. Further he was guarded by his shield bearer when approaching the war-field. The mystery of winning battles in the past was in the weapons: bronze javelin on the back, iron sword and the iron spear shaft weighing six hundred shekels (Samuel 1, The Holy Bible). David as a warrior from his youth days always obeyed the commandments of his master and patiently listened to the Lord.

As the days approached for battle, David was dressed in a tunic, a coat of armour clad around him, and a bronze helmet on the head. However, on the decisive day of battle, David decided to change the war attire as he was not used to fighting war with heavy gear. Instead of metal armour he wore simple shepherd clothes, took his staff in his hand along with five smooth stones in his shepherd bag. At this juncture it is worthy to analyse this approach of David towards Goliath and forces. Certainly, the dynamics of war showed that if David defeated Goliath, then he and his troops would be rewarded with great wealth and the families would be exempted from taxes in Israel. However, the superficial strength of David compared to Goliath was insufficient to win the war.

During the climax of war, Goliath approached David confidently with the hope of killing him with one blow. After a few heated words between the two, David simply took the stones out of the shepherd’s pouch. Further, he struck a stone on the Palestinian’s forehead until the enemy fell face down. David approaching Goliath triumphantly drew the iron sword from Goliath’s sheath and cut his head off after killing him. This biblical story advocates knowledge and learning to individuals and societies. Further, this story can be explained in the light of a simple, modern theory – Hofstede’s cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2010).

Accordingly, the power distance principle says that some individuals appreciate hierarchy while others believe that all should be treated equally. Goliath displayed greater power than David by the iron-clad attire and strategic war gear. This emanated high power distance between Goliath and David’s forces. David fearlessly approached the enemies beyond the borderline signifying less power distance. As a simple shepherd he used smaller tools to approach the enemies effectively and faster, bridging the power distance between the two troupes. Overall, the power distance between Israelites and Palestinians were high – David and his troops were traditional, lesser in strength and simple in war techniques. However, complex modernised strategies and tactics were advocated by Goliath’s troops. 

The individualism principle holds that individualistic persons primarily safeguard their interests, while collectivistic persons contribute towards the common benefits of the masses. Goliath in this context relied on his technical capabilities, cognitional strengths and experiences. Further, he kept trust in his troops and the shield bearer in defeating David. This illustrates a combination of both aspects of the principle. David however was more individualistic as he developed faith in his primitive weapons and affection towards his own capabilities in raging against Goliath. Also, David developed greater ties with his troops compared to Goliath who lacked human skills.

The strategic orientation in winning the war can be visualised through parallels from the story. David approached victory by placing the long-term goal of destroying Goliath, first. His method was simple, but capitalising on long-term benefits from killing the enemy and banishing supporting Palestinian troops from Israel. Short-term orientation is the flip side of the principle of strategic orientation. Goliath only focused on short-term victory. His conceptual planning to destroy David and the Israelite troops, robust fighting gear and intimidating behaviour during the battle were rather short-term and could not do justice to the battle overall. 

Uncertainty avoidance is a principle associated with the risk and return of any activity. David was a taker of risks in the battlefield. He had only five stones from the nearby stream to attack Goliath. Ambiguity in him was whether he could win against the enemies with weaker weapons. While David was comfortable with ambiguity, he took a calculated risk of defiance by the enemies. On the contrary, Goliath was a risk-averse person as he clad himself with iron armour and a foregoing shield bearer with the hope of successfully defending himself. However, risk and ambiguity created anxiety disadvantaging Goliath’s victory against David.

Hence, this story emanates manifold practical implications for competing businesses in the postmodern organisational environment.

(Dhinesha Ruwanthi Perera is a lawyer by profession and a lecturer as well. She is also a researcher and writer. She has published her work in the fields of work ethics and its organisational implications, organisational behaviour, legal aspects of supplies for businesses, workplace spirituality, execution of creativity and defence management in military organisations.)

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