How Underdogs Win Military Conflicts

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on May 5, 2010


A very fascinating, and interesting story about the book Outnumbered, by Cormac O’Brien, which studies underdog military victories. The description of the battle of Cannae–and its influence through the ages, as military commanders have sought to apply the proper lessons from Hannibal’s legacy as a military commander–is gripping. And the takeaway lesson is very important as well:

In these extremely unlikely victories, [author Cormac] O’Brien says he has found some common themes.

“Cooler heads always prevail,” O’Brien explains. “[These commanders] think their way out. They don’t act rashly. … There’s a sort of level of concentration — almost a zen presence — among the commanders who are victorious in these battles.”

But that doesn’t mean they shy away from conflict, either. Leaders of smaller forces often acted assertively, meeting challenges head-on.

And don’t forget hubris, O’Brien says: “There’s also, on the other side, almost invariably a great deal of overconfidence which kills an army again and again and again.”

These lessons apply in the non-military sphere as well, of course.

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