Enemy Mine: Why Everyone Needs a Rival

When we were starting Tippit (soon to be Focus), a gentleman named John Luongo was an observer in our board meetings. He had a storied career at Oracle and then was the CEO of Vantive. He had lots of advice for us, but one thing in particular that he said has always stuck with me: “You really need to pick an enemy.” I actually mentioned this concept in an earlier post on the marketing automation market.

Here is what John meant: Management should declare an enemy and rally everyone in the company around beating this enemy. Sales will want to outsell the enemy, product will want to produce a better product than the enemy and so forth. John described how, in his early days, Oracle obsessed about beating Informix (which Oracle did handily). Sure, you could simply say, “Pick a goal to strive for” — but that doesn’t play on primal, competitive instincts. I love this concept, and I see at least five distinctive benefits:

1.      It helps everyone focus: Having a rallying cry gives teams a reason to come to work each day. It also can help you make decisions on where to put your energy.

2.      It motivates: See above.

3.       It serves as a scoreboard: Scoreboards work.

4.       It fosters our natural mean streak: That’s always a good thing.

5.       It can provide a ‘measuring stick’: Take a reference point like a competitor’s product and say, “We will beat their functionality (or even their website).”

No, obsession is not healthy, but having an enemy makes so much sense.

There are some great examples of this, but by far my favorite is University of Colorado football. In 1982, Bill McCartney took over as head coach of the Colorado football program; at the time, the team couldn’t win a thing (in 1980 the team was 1-10; in 1981 the team was 3-8 — you get the picture). One of the first things McCartney did was name Nebraska as Colorado’s primary rival. Nebraska was a perennial powerhouse, had defeated Colorado 14 times in a row, and could care less about Colorado. Honestly, anybody following college football at the time would tell you McCartney was crazy. That’s why this is the perfect example: McCartney made the best team he could their measuring stick for success. His “enemy” was perfect for the team to aspire to, and it set a bold, “hairy” goal for his program to achieve.

Here is what happened next:

  • Four years later (1986) Colorado beat No. 3-ranked Nebraska 20-10.
  • In 1990, Colorado won the national championship.
  • In all, McCartney created a national powerhouse of a program.

You might ask me if this is the first article in the “business-aholic” stage of my life. Maybe, but the decision to declare an enemy is something even department and organizational heads can do. In other words, this concept is still very “Funnelholic.” As a marketer, I love to have an enemy. If I had to decide on my marketing plan, I would use my enemy as my measuring stick. I would want to create a better website, blog, social media presence, content, advertise where they are and so forth. All of this makes my program better and, for me at least, makes it more fun — I get to keep score and compete.

Choose an enemy, you’ll be better for it.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Great post Craig – spot on. Who’s yours?

    John Luongo – that reference brings me back to my early-days-of-CRM career.

  • ‘Whenever you cross swords with an enemy you must not think of cutting him either strongly or weakly; just think of cutting and killing him.’

  • I was with you until #4, Craig. IMO, there is no such thing as a “natural” mean streak. In fact, I believe that fostering meanness just brings that same thing back to you.

    Sociologist, therapist, and life coach, Martha Beck says it this way….

    “Why are people mean? Here’s the short answer: They’re hurt. Here’s the long answer: They’re really hurt. At some point, somebody—their parents, their lovers, Lady Luck—did them dirty. They were crushed. And they’re still afraid the pain will never stop, or that it will happen again.

    There. I’ve just described every single person living on planet Earth.

    The fact is that we’ve all been hurt, and we’re all wounded, but not all of us are mean. Why not? Because some people realize that their history of suffering can be a hero’s saga rather than a victim’s whine, depending on how they “write” it. The moment we begin tolerating meanness, in ourselves or others, we are using our authorial power in the service of wrongdoing. We have both the capacity and the obligation to do better.”

    So, why “show up” in the world as mean and hurt. I propose that we tap into our competitiveness, courage and integrity…and choose the hero’s path to winning.

  • editor

    Fair enough Janet. Maybe I will change the term going forward from “mean” streak to something else. I don’t mean to encourage actually being mean to someone else. To me a mean streak just means that you are showing up at work with a figurative “chip on your shoulder”.

  • editor

    Chris Selland:I can’t tell you my rival…that’s one of the rules of the “choose a rival” club