Embrace Your Enemies

Embrace Your Enemies 

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

President Abe Lincoln said this in response to an elderly lady who had chastised him for not calling Southerners, who he had referred to as fellow human beings who were in error, irreconcilable enemies who must be destroyed.

I have always been highly competitive. Growing up playing a variety of sports, I loved to win. Starting with little league baseball all the way to playing league tennis today, I thoroughly enjoy competing at the highest level and winning whenever possible. Likewise, I have never taken losing well. I have lost many a night’s sleep tormented by an unexpected defeat.

No surprise that this competitive spirit has spilled into my business life as well. Early in my career, I despised my fellow competitors. They were the bad guys and I was the good guy. I was always looking for an advantage. Where were they most vulnerable?

As a result, I had very little communication or contact with my competitors. Why would I? They were a threat to my entrepreneurial existence. I was sure they were stealing my clients, poaching my best employees, and pilfering what little intellectual capital I had at the time. My job was to eliminate my competitors using whatever competitive advantage I might have.

How did that work out you ask? Mixed results. I felt very isolated at times. It was me against them. Sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t maybe better off with a less adversarial relationship with my peers. Maybe I should talk to them? Collect competitive intelligence first hand? Possibly even befriend my competitors.

So I did. I began to seek out these other business owners when possible at public events, Chamber of Commerce meetings, etc. I even invited several to breakfast, lunch, or just coffee. I began asking them questions like “How do you find such good people?” and “How do you stay so busy?”.

And here was the amazing part. They answered my questions. They shared some of their best practices with me…a competitor. I was shocked what I could learn from a competitor in a relatively short period of time over a cup of coffee (or sweet tea in my case). My simple curiosity resulted in an ample collection of valuable competitive data.

And then an even stranger thing happened next. These same now friendly competitors began referring job candidates to me that they couldn’t immediately employ themselves. They also began referring new customers to me that for whatever reason they couldn’t serve. And I returned the favor when possible. We were becoming …friendly competitors. How did this happen?

Then one day one of my new found friendly competitors offered to buy my company for a very fair price and I accepted. This happened a second time several years later.

As you can imagine my thinking about competitors changed dramatically over time. I began to think more like Abe Lincoln and less like Attila the Hun. It made much more sense to embrace my competitors than treat them like arch enemies. The closer I got to them, the better off I was.

The term that has been coined recently for this competitive strategy is “co-opitition”. The idea is that we can become even more competitive by cooperating with our competitors. Our success does not have to be at the expense of our competitors. We are now encouraged to look for ways to collaborate with our industry peers. Examples might include:

  • a job fair hosted by a number of companies in the same industry
  • an employee training program
  • a marketing event
  • sharing industry/market information

One of my favorite books about Abe Lincoln was “Team of Rivals”. The book reveals that after a fierce presidential election, Lincoln invited several of his biggest political foes to be a part of his presidential cabinet. He felt the closer he could be to his enemies the better off he was. Lincoln also was not afraid of hearing dissenting points of view from his rivals when making policy decisions.

How might you get closer to your competition? Is it time to “destroy your enemies by making them your friends?”

The Grit Scale Test

See how “Gritty” you are with this quick test developed by Angela Lee Duckworth et al. as part of their research on Grit at the University of Pennsylvania.

I took the test and got a “3.83”. How did you do?

The Checklist Manifesto

The Checklist Manifesto written by Atul Gawande

I use checklists for everything. I prepare a checklist for each Vistage meeting, GrowSmart program, and even one for every visit to Costco. Each week I prepare a checklist for the next seven days divided into most important/least important and business/personal.

I don’t know what I would do without my checklists. I do know that much would be forgotten and overlooked.

My first formal introduction to the use of checklists came from a great article in The New Yorker Magazine several years ago written by Dr Atul Gawande. That article than turned into a best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto.

Dr Gawande is a surgeon at a teaching hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, and a professor at Harvard Medical School. Over the last decade he has spent considerable time studying the use of checklists in and out of healthcare organizations. His findings have created a huge shift worldwide to the use of checklists.

In the introduction to the book Gawande says the following:

We need a different strategy for overcoming failure, one that builds on experience and takes advantage of the knowledge people have but somehow also makes up for our inevitable human inadequacies. A there is such a strategy- it is a checklist.”

Gawande explains that most of us depend on two factors to avoid failures in an ever increasingly complex world: expertise and our memory. Unfortunately, both have limitations. The best example Gawande uses are surgeons. Most of whom have tons of experience and great memories. And yet they make mistakes. Too many mistakes at times.

Gawande and his team created checklists for doctors and implemented them into hospitals around the world as a result of a program sponsored by the World Heath Organization. The results were spectacular. Physician’s errors were practically eliminated as a result of the checklists. Many lives were saved.

In the book, the author also looks at the use of checklists in other fields such as aviation, disaster recovery, and in business. Once again, the results from using checklists in each of these areas were fantastic.

Where could you be using checklists in your business today that your people are depending upon their experience and memory to get it right?

I walk into Chick-Fil-A and what do I see? A checklist. I get gas at QuickTrip. What do I see behind the counter? A checklist.

I loved this book and highly recommend it to all small business owners and operators. 

The Team Approach to Job Interviews