Thinking of turning a professional disadvantage into an advantage may sound contradictory to you. But, as Malcolm Gladwell proposes in his book David and Goliath, we often underestimate the benefits of the disadvantage.
Gladwell explains it by analyzing the biblical story of David and Goliath from a different point of view. From his perspective, David’s very inferior size, lack of protective armor, heavy weapons and training (which historically was interpreted as a disadvantage) were the reason he won the fight. That is, he did not win it despite being much smaller than Goliath. He won it because he was smaller and more agile and because he had other skills that Goliath didn’t expect from an opponent with whom he was going to have a close range combat.
David was not an infantryman like Goliath. He was a shepherd boy used to using a sling to defend his flock from predatory beasts. Therefore, he wasn’t wearing heavy armor that limited his movements and slowed him down, as his enemy was wearing. Moreover, he didn’t occupy his hands with a shield, a spear and a sword. The boy just carried a sling and a bag with five stones.
By skillfully shooting a pebble to Goliath’s forehead, David ended the giant’s life and then cut off his head with the fallen man’s own sword.
Now, think about it. We have spent centuries using this story as an example that sometimes those who are most disadvantaged can overcome those most advantaged (the weakest beat the strongest, the poorest beat the richest, etc.) when statistics show that this turn of events takes place much more frequently than we think. It’s time to review our idea of what a disadvantage is.
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Turning any professional disadvantage into an advantage
In your career it is simple to justify that whatever doesn’t go well for you happens because you have a professional disadvantage (or any kind of disadvantage for that matter.) You don’t have the right education or contacts; you don’t have the proper title; you’re overqualified or you live in the wrong town or country. What would happen if you took this apparent professional disadvantage and let it guide you towards a solution only you could identify? Something that few people without your particular professional disadvantage would even think of.
For example, your apparent professional disadvantage is that you live in an economically depressed area where the economy is broken, it is difficult to get work, and everything is an uphill battle. By carefully observing your situation you realize that the cost of living where you are is so low that you could offer products or services at attractive prices abroad. Can you use e-commerce platforms such as Freelance.com, Outsource.com or Alibaba.com to sell your product or service outside your town or your country?
Or, considering your professional disadvantage is that as the marketplace has changed, your role has been collapsed into other roles and it no longer exists as stand alone. You seem to be overqualified for most of the jobs you apply to. Could you set up a consulting business that offers services to those companies which no longer have your position as they are deemed to have unfulfilled needs?
Or suppose you are interested in running a new project in your job and the other person being considered for the position has much more experience than you. Instead of seeing your lack of experience as a professional disadvantage, take advantage of it to focus on developing good relationships with those with whom you would be working on the project in question. By doing so, you have a chance to share your unique points of view, your great creativity and your social skills. In other words, you demonstrate with facts the great value you would bring to that group if you were chosen. Suddenly, your lack of experience is no longer relevant because the team feels comfortable with you and what you bring to the table so you become the obvious choice.
Lateral thinking can help you figure out best way to leverage your professional disadvantage
You can read this article and say, “Yeah, it’s easier said than done. Not all professional disadvantages can be turned around.” Sure, it’s true that there are situations where you won’t come out on top. But you will always get more benefits from using your professional disadvantage as a driving force to get ahead than by letting it determine a future in which you are not happy.
So try it. You have nothing to lose. Sit down with your perceived or real disadvantage which you consider is responsible for your current frustration and let it guide you into the field with David’s confidence. With no armor, no weapons, just a sling and a bag with five stones. And see what happens.