Most of us face situations in which success seems impossible or improbable, and many of them involve what Malcolm Gladwell calls “Goliaths” from his book, David and Goliath. These are adversaries or adverse conditions that appear to be insurmountable. In education, we often find ourselves facing “Goliaths” and our initial assessment is that we can’t possibly succeed because we’re out-manned, out-resourced, and out-powered. But, according to Gladwell, all is not lost. Our misconceptions about the situation and about who really has the power lie at the heart of the problem.

So what can we do? According to Gladwell, we can do the following:

Rethink what an “advantage” is. Conventional wisdom sometimes tells us what is and what is not an advantage. For example, a small school might seem to be at a disadvantage because it’s not able to offer all the extracurricular activities, classes, and programs that much larger schools offer. Yet the smaller school might have the advantage of being more flexible and able to implement changes and improvements more easily and quickly than larger schools. Smaller schools with smaller staffs can certainly be nimble and can often react more quickly and gracefully to changing conditions. Gladwell reminds us that we can turn our apparent disadvantages into advantages.

Change the rules. We often feel hopeless in the midst of situations where we face adverse conditions and feel that loss is imminent. This hopelessness comes from the knowledge that, if we play by the rules in this situation, we’re certain to lose. But who says we have to play by these rules? Why can’t we change them, modify them, and approach the adversity in an entirely new manner? In the story of David and Goliath, David chose not to engage the giant in a conventional manner because he would have surely lost. Instead, he fought unconventionally and in a way his adversary wasn’t expecting—and he won. Changing the rules means climbing out of the box into which systems put us and reinventing the game. When you’re faced with a sure loss, what do you have to lose?

Use what you have. When we face sure defeat in adversarial situations we begin to engage in “what if” thinking, such as, “What if we had more computers?” or, “What if we had more money for teacher salaries?” Sometimes, though, in the face of adverse and adversarial conditions and sure loss, we have to use what we have—and often what we have and what we control is more than we think. For example, if you want a 1:1 computer program and can’t find funding to purchase computers for every student, then “use what you have.” Perhaps enough students have their own computers so you can open your network for BYOD and only need to purchase computers for those who can’t afford them. This accomplishes the goal by “using what you got.”

Sure defeat isn’t always a sure thing, as Gladwell makes clear in his book, David and Goliath. We can prevail in more situations than we think by being willing to rethink our advantages, change the rules, and use what we’ve got.