A few years ago, Gladwell wrote an interesting story on how the underdog can beat the favorite. When the underdog plays the favorite's game they lose around 65% of the time. When the underdog refuses to play the favorite's game and plays another game entirely, the win/loss reverses and they win over 60% of the time. This magnificent article has many, many lessons in trading and life in general.

Russ Sears comments:

I loved this article also, and have recommended it to many non scientific minded friends.

However, like many of Gladwell's writing that are entertaining summaries of other experts ideas, I believe he misses some of the more relevant points. Perhaps it is literary license, to make it more entertaining to the masses, or perhaps, it is just poor science to focus on what he believes can tie these ideas all together in a nice neat package without the lose ends that reality always messes up tight arguments.

While I can not disagree with his lawyer like presentation style of writing quasi scientific pieces for marketing purposes, most of his works leave me wishing to talk to the real expert's and scientist's whose life work he is putting into these boxes… to get the real story. The end result I believe is that his work often over-reaches to make a scientific case for his pet ideas. In my opinion, the masses buy them as "science" but they tend to fall apart when the rigor of science is really applied.

One thing that bothered me about this piece was his glossing over hard training to achieve the fitness level of the players for the underdog basketball teams. Knowing a few things about how to get peak running performance out of somebody. It would seem that while those coaches that get their players to consistently peak during the March Madness Tournament would have to loss a few games that they could have won because the players trained too hard and did not sufficiently recover. During the regular season the players would have to train so hard they leave their game on the practice field and loss some to teams that have less talent but are fresher. Then near the tourney, the coach would lighten up the practices to let them peak at the right time. Cardiovascular wise you can only really peak for a little over a month. It would appear to me that those teams that are coached to win every game during the regular season would be ranked higher than they should because they cannot "peak" any more. While those that worked harder, lost more games due to fatigue, are ranked lower than they should be. In other words are they "underdogs" because they train so hard during the regular season that they can peak higher than the other teams or are they Cinderella teams like David because they are prepared and fit enough to attack Goliath.

Also the pacing of the game must be such that the underdog's players are able to still match the jump and burst of speeds of the other team at the end. Some of this can be achieved by burning out the other team's fast twitch muscles early on…but some of this also has to be taught to strategically hold back a little at first, so your team does not suffer the same fate.

I have not watched any game this year, I have been too busy, however, this may explain why all the underdogs are left. And Gladwell may very well have made this style of coaching popular in basketball today. Whatever it is teams like Butler certainly have made the tourney exciting this year.

And while I think the numbers may be overstated, it would appear that there is some substance to the 3 ideas he states that underdogs should try:

1. Take an unconventional approach,
2. Try harder than the top dogs
3. Aggressive attack with determination and no thoughts of losing.

The first one helps you believe in yourself, that it is possible. The second gives you moral basis for why you should win. And the third can stun the others into thinking you will win.


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