Underdog stories prove the power of story

Credit: Matthew Henry

Credit: Matthew Henry

You love an underdog story. So do I. We all do.

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because we want to be the underdog who does well despite the odds.

Maybe it’s the thought that no matter how bad things get we can rise and take the prize.

One thing is certain. Underdog stories are pre-programmed to have all the elements of an excellent narrative.

They have the context of who it was and how little they had. We hear of the underdog’s struggles, how they acted in the world and how the world acted on them. We learn of amazing outcomes.

Jan Koum, founder of Whatsapp immigrated to the USA from the Ukraine when he was 16. He was living on food stamps in those days. In 2014 he sold the company to Facebook for $19,000,000,000.

Not too shabby. Right?

JK Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, was a single mother living on benefits. She’s now estimated to be worth $1,000,000,000, and some people have even claimed Harry Potter rivals the Star Wars franchise. I disagree. So does Fortune. More than the GDP of Jordan! Ask me about the time I met George Lucas… twice.

I didn’t even have to research this topic much at all. Just pop in “underdog business story” into a search engine and enjoy the results. I like making things easy for people so here are some more, and here too.

Harvard Business School has even researched the underdog phenomenon because of its appeal in consumer branding. As the research summary warns, this isn’t the right narrative for all situations.

But it still proves a meta-point.

Your story is powerful.

We pay attention to a story. We share stories.

Do you want people to share your story, your companies story?

If not why are you even in business?

Do you have an underdog story? Are you living one right now? I’d love to hear about it – maybe we can help you capture, distill and create content around it.

For example: Growing up in the 1980s I moved around a lot. My father worked for Intel. By the time I was twelve I had lived in eleven homes. Not to mention all the temporary corporate housing in which we lived. My wife and many of my friends grew up with people that they still know and call close friends. At the age of seven, I became acutely aware of the fact I never lived in one place long enough to make close friends. I was always building new friendships. Many years later, in 2003, during a period of relatively stable housing, I was living in Swindon, England. Swindon wasn’t doing it for me. I needed a break. Working for Intel myself at the time I explored the opportunity for a “sabbatical coverage” opportunity in the USA. I found one that was for a full six months and in June 2004 I moved to the USA. It turned out that because of all my moving in my formative years I could take the move in my stride where many others would struggle. I may not have sold a company for $19B (yet), but I did turn a situation that historically caused me angst into a successful one. I am now lucky to have close friends all over the world. In many ways, an “underdog” story is about turning a bad situation into a good one.