When we think rivalries, it's natural to envision classic struggles such as the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox; Sherlock Holmes versus Professor Moriarty; Sparta versus Athens; Batman versus the Joker; or green M&Ms versus red.
Yet some of the greatest rivalries, though often overlooked, have been between businesses. Consider Apple versus PC; cable television versus dish satellite; Ford versus GM; Nike versus Reebok; or Coke versus Pepsi, just to name a few. Consumers have benefited from those, and many other, similar business rivalries, but so have the businesses pitted against implacable competitors.
Businesses loathe tough competitors and strive to push them out of markets, or out of business altogether, but here are three reasons why business owners should be grateful for tough competitors.
1. They make you better.
We frequently fail to objectively evaluate our personal and organizational vulnerabilities, which leaves those blind spots exposed to opportunistic exploitation from a strong competitor.
Competitors identify and strike at your organizations' greatest weaknesses. That is a valuable wake-up call, courtesy of a business antagonist, that compels us to recognize those problem areas and marshal resources to fix them.
2. They make you focus.
History is littered with examples of individuals, groups, teams and organizations that successfully achieved a vision only to slide into obscurity and irrelevancy because they lost sight of what was necessary to protect their hard-fought success.
Psychologists and sociologists agree that the fear of losing something is a greater motivator than the desire to gain something. There's an ancient proverb that says even a foolish king would have protected his land if he had known when the invaders were coming.
Business is no different.
Once success is achieved, businesses at every level and scale need to be vigilant to quickly identify and deal with threats both within the organization and externally. Beyond macro-economic conditions, which no individual business can control, the next greatest external "threat" that requires the focus of a business owner is their competition.
Competitors sharpen your focus on the top priorities of your business, the proper markets to pursue, and your mix of products and services, as well as whether you are delivering on your customer promises.
3. You can't achieve greatness without them.
Entrepreneurs, and high achievers in general, want to compete and beat the best.
That's the appeal of formal competitive events, such as the Olympics, the Oscars, and the Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes. Only the best can win in those endeavors. The value of the victory is heightened by the abilities, skills and parity of the competitors.
That ambition also applies in business, because a victory doesn't mean anything if there's nothing at stake due to inferior competitors. Economic theory finds that virtually every type of monopoly is short-lived because competitors will ultimately recognize the opportunity and pursue a share of the market.
If you don't have competitors now, you will eventually.
While that may dismay some leaders, confident leaders welcome the chance to test their best against the rest and prove their dominance against worthy adversaries. Another ancient proverb states, "As iron sharpens iron, so man sharpens man." That holds true for business.
Since competitors are an unavoidable fact of business, recognizing their contrarian value and the unforeseen benefits they may hold for your organization is a competitive advantage.
Related: Competition Is for Sissies