The rivalry between Microsoft and Apple has become the stuff of legend. No tech sector giant has been quite so iconic as either of these two companies, and it seems like it’s been that way forever. Their branding is so good that their users have become warring tribes, no matter where in the world you find them.
The feeling of personal animosity between these companies’ users seems to be an outgrowth of the personal animosity between the men at the helm. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has said of his Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates that he is an “unimaginative” man who “never invented anything,” finishing with a business entrepreneur's dig that he’s better off in philanthropy than in business. Not to be outdone, Gates has called Jobs “odd,” even “weirdly flawed,” though crediting him with “an amazing instinct for what works.”
These two tech giants are only one example of a great business rivalry. There are Addidas and Nike, DC and Marvel, Coke and Pepsi, GM and Ford, Post and Kellogg’s, and let’s not forget the Lakers and the Celtics. These tribes scratch and bite like cats and dogs. Their scrapes can truly make the fur fly. But a lot of creative power is unleashed out of these struggles. Both rivals are forced to be at the top of their game at all times. Innovation flourishes as new ideas come from every direction.
The rivalry is a source of energy entrepreneurs would be wise to learn to tap. I certainly have. As a magazine publisher in Atlanta, one of the first things I did was identify my enemy. Our magazine had many rivals, but one in particular just seemed to volunteer for the role of the enemy. That company became the scratching post against which we sharpened our claws. It wasn’t a “Let’s shake hands” sportsmanship exercise; we wanted to break them, to drive them to closure if we could. Everything we did had to be better than everything they did. Eventually, we forced them to make changes like switching to full-color printing, thereby raising their expenses. We never did quite make them close their doors, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Are you starting up a business? If you want to focus and motivate your team, choose an archrival, and set out to crush them. It quickens the spirit in a way Meeting Those Quarterly Goals just doesn’t. It makes it personal, and it does so at every rung of the ladder. You’ll find your people, and yourself, much more eager to give 110%. Absenteeism will drop. Work will become fun. It’s called competition, and it’s the quickened pulse of business success.
You might even find that spirit of rivalry catching among your customers — as it did for Apple and Microsoft. Then you’ll really have caught lightning in a bottle.