Your Competition is NOT Your Enemy

Rivals, competition, and enemies—we all have them. The problem is that we confuse the three. In our confusion we misdirect precious time, attention, and resources, which contributes to malaise, frustration, and underperformance. 

We perform at our best when we accurately identify all three. We gain ground on our rivals, rise above our competition, and claim victories over our enemies. 


Rivals have one goal: to defeat one another. This is as true of Steph and LeBron as it is of Apple and Microsoft. Though we may at times wish they would go away, our rivals make us better. They drive us deep within ourselves where we uncover capabilities we didn’t know we had. True rivals value one another, which helps explain why it’s not uncommon for rivals to be friends, or even family members. Where would Serena be without Venus? Image where you would be without your rivals. 


Our competition shares nothing in common with our rivals. As John Wooden said, “The best competition I have is against myself to become better.” We are our competition. Our competition reminds us that we can do better and to expect more from ourselves. When we compete with ourselves, we know we can defeat our rival and still lose, and only when we compete at our highest level possible can we truly claim victory, irrespective of the outcome.


Our true enemy lies within each of us. The enemy will do anything in its power to hamstring our ability to perform at our best. Fear of criticism and inadequacy sabotages a leader’s ability to perform at her best. Distrust drives down a team’s capacity for collaboration. Misalignment within a company contributes to inefficiencies and confusion. Whatever its form, defeating the enemy requires that we not confuse our enemy with our rival or competition. Such confusion ensures our defeat.

Nike’s True Enemy 

Nike, for example, performs at their best when they recognize that Under Armor and Adidas are not their enemies. They’re not even Nike’s competition. They’re Nike’s rivals. Conversely, Nike loses their way when they confuse the three. The same is true for all of us—as individuals, teams, and companies.

Who is Nike’s enemy? Since their inception, Nike has had one enemy, though it goes by different names—laziness, self-doubt, and even shame. This is Nike’s true enemy. It’s at the heart of the company, which is why they perform at their best when they rightly identify and align their resources against this enemy. They resonate with consumers because we see our story in the Nike story. We’re both fighting the same enemy. 

Life as a Story

Binge watching wouldn’t exist without tension in a story. Tension comes from the struggles, villains, and conflict within the story. These make stories worth watching. Your enemy makes your story worth telling. Without your enemy, you wouldn’t be who you are. Your enemy is an essential character in your story, as long as you’re sure you’ve rightly identified it.

Andrew Robinson