Enemies Are Good For You

The following is also my latest MediaPost column

Enemies Are Good For You 

January 11th, 2008 by Max Kalehoff

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” the proverb goes. While that’s sound advice, enemies are more than opponents to manage relative to your allies. Enemies are good for you. In fact, they can bring out the best in you. They are something to embrace and cultivate. Yes, I’m serious.

According to Guy Kawasaki, author, entrepreneur, VC and former Apple Computer executive, enemies are desirable because they provide a focal point for a cause. “Perhaps it’s human nature, but it’s often more fun to try and defeat than to do good,” he wrote in his book, “Selling The Dream,” which I read several years ago and again last week.

But enemies are so much more. They create polarizing tension that mobilizes humans and organizations to innovate, compete, perform and succeed. The raw framework of enemies and fear of surrender is hardwired into our brains. It’s part of our chemistry and enables mankind to advance when it otherwise would not. To clearly define and embrace your enemies is to align your innermost forces and external assets to overcome. By no coincidence, the tendency for enemy frameworks to facilitate competition and peak performance is at the root of capitalism. Enemy frameworks have fueled some of the greatest business accomplishments.

According to Kawasaki, enemies can be tactical, such as your business competitors. They can add legitimacy by acknowledging your existence and cause. They can focus and rally your constituents. They can provide quantifiable milestones, such as when you take their market share. Tactical enemies sometimes can jointly defeat a common conceptual enemy, such as the unwillingness of a market to accept a new product category. Despite the prevalence and visibility of tactical enemies, Kawasaki points out that conceptual enemies are the most important of all. I agree.

Despite tendencies to immediately ostracize perceived negative thinking, I believe marketers can actually do themselves a huge favor by fully embracing enemy frameworks, particularly conceptual enemy frameworks. I’m not referring to people enemies so much as symbolic ones. I’m talking about forces or constraints that you psychologically embody as adversaries to overcome.

Tactical enemy focus is fine and often necessary, but crystallizing conceptual enemies is inherently the most visionary path to success. Conceptual enemy frameworks cultivate strategic thinking that attacks more fundamental and long-term challenges. They drive clarity and meaning to otherwise complex or misconstrued business situations. Conceptual enemy frameworks can instill mission, clarity and fire inside every employee and company department. Not surprisingly, conceptual enemies most often are defined and embraced by the more visionary leaders. Such leaders tend more often to achieve transformational results.

Winston Churchill once said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

What’s the big enemy you need to defeat?

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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