Chelsea 4 Burnley 5 – David v Goliath, lessons for SMEs from The Beast & Michael Duff

David’s victory over Goliath, in 1 Samuel Chapter 17 of the Old Testament is the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. Twice a day for 40 days, Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, challenged the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome in single combat. But Saul and all the Israelites were afraid.

David, bringing food for his elder brothers, hears that Saul has promised to reward any man who defeats Goliath, and accepts the challenge. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armour; David declines, taking only his sling and five stones.

David and Goliath confront each other, Goliath with his armour and shield, David with his staff and sling. David hurls a stone from his sling with all his might, and hits Goliath in the centre of his forehead. Goliath falls on his face to the ground, and David cuts off his head.

This victory is held to be an anomaly. It is not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft looked at every war fought in the past 200 years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5% of the cases. That is a remarkable fact, especially when the result is in the context of Arreguín-Toft’s sample was analysing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful in terms of armed might and population as its opponent – even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.

What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analysed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5% to 63.6%. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded.

On Tuesday 12 November 2008, four years ago today, David beat Goliath in a football match. Burnley created the shock of the season when they sent Chelsea out of the Carling Cup in a dramatic of penalty shoot-out, thanks to our David, a man nicknamed ‘The Beast’.

Emotion and drama echoed around Stamford Bridge as 6,000 Burnley fans celebrated a most unlikely but deserved victory when ‘The Beast’, Brian Jensen, Burnley’s Danish goalkeeper and longest serving player, became the hero of the night, saving firstly from Wayne Bridge then, in sudden death, from John Obi Mikel. The Beast was a Beauty, taking Burnley into the last eight of the competition for the first time in a quarter of a century.

Drogba gave Chelsea the lead, but cult-hero Ade Akinbiyi took the tie into extra time with a dramatic, deserved goal for the Clarets. Both teams finished with 10 men – Chelsea played the final 27 minutes when Di Santo limped off, but Burnley also finished with 10 when captain Steven Caldwell, booked for fouling Drogba, was dismissed for halting Malouda.

The Beast played like, well, a beast, making string of against-the-odds saves. Burnley introduced Ade Akinbiyi midway through the second half, for Martin Paterson, and after Cudicini could only parry Chris Eagles’ shot, the striker converted the rebound with ease, in the 69th minute. Cue mayhem from the away hordes. The Israelites surely made less noise.

Jensen punched clear to stop a Lampard free-kick at the end of 90 minutes, and, in extra time, Burnley were the stronger but Alex was guilty of missing a match winner in the 124th minute when he sent the ball over an open target to send the game to penalties. It went like this:

Alexander scores Chelsea 0-1 Burnley
Lampard scores Chelsea 1-1 Burnley
Mahon scores Chelsea 1-2 Burnley
Bridge saved Chelsea 1-2 Burnley
Eagles scores Chelsea 1-3 Burnley
Kalou scores Chelsea 2-3 Burnley
McDonald scores Chelsea 2-4 Burnley
Ferreira scores Chelsea 3-4 Burnley
Elliott missed Chelsea 3-4 Burnley
Malouda scores Chelsea 4-4 Burnley

Then onto sudden death:

Duff scores Chelsea 4-5 Burnley
Mikel saved Chelsea 4-5 Burnley

Burnley: Jensen, Alexander, Duff, Caldwell, Jordan, Eagles, Gudjonsson (MacDonald 97), McCann, Elliott, Blake (Mahon 76), Paterson (Akinbiyi 60).
Subs not used: Penny, McDonald, Rodriguez, Kay

Booked: Akinbiyi, Eagles

Sent off: Caldwell

Goals: Akinbiyi 69

Crowd: 41,369 including 3 from our house.

In business terms, Burnley were an SME, Chelsea a Global operator. The result shows that the large business doesn’t always overcome the small.

The story of David and Goliath is a simple story of how a little shepherd boy defeated a famous fully armed giant warrior. Though I am not religious, I often use this story as a source of inspiration to SME owners on how they can overcome the odds against larger rivals. So how does this story apply to your small business?

Entrepreneurs perpetually play the role of David against their Goliath corporate competitors, and, just like their biblical counterpart, small businesses can defeat their large competitors by outmanoeuvring, out-imagining, and outperforming them. The business lesson is this: when underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win.

Entrepreneurs are perfectly positioned to operate as insurgents against their entrenched corporate competitors, because they’re more willing to take risks, challenge the conventions about how commercial battles are supposed to be fought, and are generally more alert and agile.

Large companies expect to confront competitors. They build enormous corporate strongholds and fill them with assets of all sorts in anticipation of large-scale engagements. But, despite their size and strength, these lumbering companies are rarely prepared to confront nimble and fast-moving adversaries that refuse to challenge them on the battlefield of their own design.

Large companies are often scaled to compete in the mass market, often paying less attention to niches, which can still be lucrative. All you have to do is take advantage of their ego, serve these small niches with passion and customer service, and you’ll win business.

So how can the entrepreneurial Davids succeed against their Goliath adversaries? Ajaero Tony Martins, a Nigerian entrepreneur, gave me inspiration for the following thoughts.It’s how Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic was able to break through the monopoly of British Airways.

1. Expect to win Before confronting Goliath, David had faith that Goliath could be defeated. Faith is simply the ability to act despite tremendous doubt. Burnley dared to believe they could win.As an entrepreneur, you must never see your competitors as infallible. You must see a possibility to out perform them.If you execute and implement your competitive strategy with this mind-set, success will be yours.

2. Self-Belief In David and Goliath the Israelites had faith that Goliath will someday be defeated but none had self-belief. David not only had faith that Goliath could be defeated, he also had the self-belief that he was the one to do it. As an entrepreneur, you must have faith that your competitor can be defeated and you must believe your business can do it.

Another way to strengthen your self-belief is by drawing courage and inspiration from your past achievements and track record. David drew courage from his past achievement of killing a bear and a lion. Burnley had a tradition of beating the bigger teams in the big games, so why not tonight?

3. Leverage Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth, said Archimedes.Leverage is simply the ability to do more with less, and ask yourself: how can I position my business to compete favourably with fewer resources?

Burnley knew Chelsea were stronger, more skilled. They won on the night by leveraging the collective effort, determination and focus of individuals into a team.David acknowledged that Goliath was taller and stronger than he was, so he asked the question; how can I defeat Goliath without engaging him in a hand-to-hand combat? That answer came in the form of leverage. That leverage was his sling.

In business, leverage can be in the form of financial leverage, brand leverage, personality leverage and intellectual leverage. In fact, there are many ways to surpass your competitors using leverage as a tool.

4. Velocity Your greatest and most powerful business survival strategy is going to be the speed at which you handle the speed of change. Goliath was armed with a shield, spear and a sword but David had only a sling and a stone. Now what was the difference?

The weapons of both David and Goliath had the potential to kill but the difference emerged in their speed. Though David’s weapon was cheaper, lighter and smaller, it had the ability to reach its target faster than that of Goliath. The sling and stone had the power of speed. How fast is your plan and how fast is your strategy?

5. Agile Strategy In football, strategy and tactics are important. On the night, Burnley’s strategy and tactics surprised Chelsea. We played it differently, we outsmarted them. In business, it’s often said that the company with a smarter strategy will emerge the winner.

Now in the game of business, you must develop a smart strategy to help you achieve your aim. You will note that David was strategic in his approach towards Goliath. His strategy was to subdue Goliath with minimal effort. To ensure the successful implementation of this strategy, David employed the following tactics:

  • He picked five stones instead of one just in case the first stone didn’t make the hit.
  • He avoided engaging Goliath in a hand to hand combat
  • He exploited Goliath’s ego and over confidence
  • He aimed at achieving his goal with the first shot
  • He took Goliath by surprise and caught him off guard

6. Focus Giant companies suffer when they lose touch with the granularity and simplicity of their business, they are flaccid, complacent and lazy about their customer. Often the giants will make compromises in quality and service, thinking customers won’t swap to a smaller operator. Often they’re not close enough to their customer. Some distant manager adjusts a few numbers on a spreadsheet, but customers react and in a click of decimal points, they switch to a rival.

The value of an individual customer is always greater for small businesses than for large corporations, and understood as such. Your business is important to me. The stores, restaurants, and other small businesses that we use are more in touch with our needs. The primary reason is that small businesses are able to feel their own pulse.

The pulse of a business is the stream of day-to-day events as they occur. In a small business, you feel all of these things as they happen. If a customer complains about something, or a competitor does something out of the ordinary, you notice. This high level of sensitivity is unique to small businesses. The pulse gives you a sixth sense for change and how to retain your customers.

On that night four years ago, the result of this one match was more important to Burnley than Chelsea. Michael Duff held his nerve. We held our breath. The Beast wanted it more. We had a focus, we had a pulse, but it was racing away.

Oh, Beast and Michael Duff, Claret Goliaths, always.