A man can’t be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
—Oscar Wilde, Irish writer, poet.
One of the biggest rivalries in business history is between Apple and Microsoft, two behemoths that have ruled the technology sector for decades. Wherever you go in the world, whether it’s to the United States or to China, you find the same scenario: Apple users hate Microsoft users and vice versa.
Even the founders of these two companies shared a personal rivalry tantamount to an East Coast–West Coast rapper feud. On the one hand, cofounder of Apple Steve Jobs said this about the cofounder of Microsoft Bill Gates: “Bill is basically unimaginative and has never invented anything, which is why I think he’s more comfortable now in philanthropy than technology. He just shamelessly ripped off other people’s ideas.” On the other hand, Gates had this to say about Jobs: “[Steve Jobs] really never knew much about technology, but he had an amazing instinct for what works.” Gates also called Jobs “fundamentally odd” and “weirdly flawed.” The evidence of these two founders’ mutual disdain is quite obvious. (And if you were wondering, I suppose Jobs would be Tupac Shakur and Gates would be The Notorious B.I.G.)
Like Apple and Microsoft, there are numerous other rivalries in business. Just to name a few, there’s Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, McDonald’s and Burger King, Ford and General Motors, Verizon and AT&T, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and the list continues. All of these companies fight one another for market share and world domination. It can get pretty dirty, too, with firms spying on and suing one another. Despite the negatives, these fierce rivalries have a benefit that is seldom mentioned: They fuel a competitive environment that motivates each company to excel. Entrepreneurs should be well aware of this phenomenon and how to use it to their advantage.
As publisher of an Atlanta magazine, I made sure to find and identify an enemy quickly, and the strategy worked well. Although we had many enemies, we singled out one publication that we utterly hated. Our goal was to put it out of business. Although we didn’t put it out of business, we did make the competitive landscape more intense. We made sure that everything we produced was exponentially better in quality than our enemy’s work. In fact, my magazine’s success eventually caused our main competitor to increase its costs by printing in color. We knew that we were winning at that point. As a result of this noticeable change, my team became even more excited and motivated to trample the competition.
When you start a business, immediately choose an enemy that you and your team aspire to crush. Identifying an archrival helps to solidify your team around a common goal and serves as a natural motivator. No one wants to lose in a game of one-on-one. It’s one thing to rally a team around stodgy goals like increasing sales 35 percent for the quarter; it’s another to rally a team around a tangible enemy that hates you as much as you hate them. Implementing this basic gamification strategy enhances your competitive spirit and at least makes business a lot more exciting for everybody.