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There is advantage in disadvantage

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

There is advantage in disadvantage

Scott Miker

Last night I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath, and I started thinking that I have heard a lot of these principles before.  In it he describes typical disadvantages in life, such as Dyslexia, and then provides examples of individuals who have overcome the diagnosis to achieve great things.  

Examples such as Richard Branson, Charles Schwab and Paul Orfalea (founder of Kinkos) are given to show that those with Dyslexia have been able to accomplish great things in their lives.  Gladwell asserts that there “are two possible interpretations for this fact.”  

He goes on to say that “One is that this remarkable group of people triumphed in spite of their disability: they are so smart and so creative that nothing - not even a lifetime of struggling with reading - could stop them.”  This seems to be the common take on these individuals - that they are so incredibly talented that nothing could stand in their way.

The other possible interpretation that Gladwell provides isn’t commonly looked at.  “The second, more intriguing, possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder - that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.”

Gladwell provides examples of research that shows that providing a slight disadvantage during a test could actually help the test-taker avoid making certain common mistakes.  The increased effort to answer the question helped them form a much more thought-out and accurate answer.  

Dr. Thomas Stanley’s book Stop Acting Rich… and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire also explored this concept.  In it he explains that having an extremely high income can hinder one’s pursuit of wealth.  Instead of investing the money, they tend to spend it on nicer and more luxurious items.  He explains that statistically, it is more beneficial to live below one’s means and invest as much as possible to become wealthy, even if one’s income isn’t very high.  

Certain occupations, such as doctors and lawyers, are less likely to adopt the conservative spending mindset which actually causes them to overspend and hurts their ability to build wealth.  The advantage of having a high income actually puts them at a disadvantage because they feel they have to have the best of everything, even if it comes at a great price.  

The idea that there are advantages from disadvantage isn’t a new concept.  In fact, the Tao Te Ching (written 2,500 years ago), provides the same wisdom.  The book is filled with paradoxes that explain that “soft and weak overcome stiff and strong.”  The 42nd chapter explains “Humans hate to be alone, poor, and hungry, yet kings and princes use these words as titles.  We gain by losing and lose by gaining.”  Another interpretation of that chapter states “people despise being orphaned, widowed and poor, but the noble ones take these as their titles.  In losing much is gained and in gaining much is lost.”

This shift in perspective can help you to understand that something might seem to be bad but actually can have positives in it.  Some of my most trying times in life ended up providing the best learning experiences.  Start to understand that there is advantage in disadvantage and that you can gain from losing and lose from gaining.  This will help you to see the whole situation and understand that there is often more than what is accepted at face value.