Inventing Your Enemy

In 2005, I found myself in a very desirable position. I had started a company from scratch six years before, and I was delighted to see it achieve some real success. ePrize had become the dominant player in the online promotions industry, organizing sweepstakes and loyalty programs for clients like Coca-Cola, Disney, P&G, adidas and Microsoft.

But then something happened confirming my worst, unspoken fears. A new company entered the promotions business, and our market position was threatened. Every time we tried to land a new client, our rival won the business by underpricing us and offering more sophisticated solutions. They seemed to have come up with a secret way of winning at lower cost yet with higher efficiency and more creativity. They stole our clients, as if by magic. My nightmare had come true.

I knew right away that our new rival, Slither Corporation, was out to kill us. Soon, they were bigger than us, they moved faster, and – though I hated to admit it – they seemed smarter. They never had a down quarter. They appeared unbeatable.

It was inevitable – Slither was going to eat our lunch. Unless we upped our game, and out-Slithered Slither.

Slither

But here’s the thing. The Slither Corporation doesn’t actually exist. I made them up. Slither is our fictive nemesis, our imaginary bad guys. To defeat comfort and complacency, I decided that our team needed a wake-up call, so I launched our make-believe competitor at the point we felt unstoppable. The goal: to ensure that we stayed at peak performance, remained humble, and pushed our creative boundaries.

Rather than battling a poorly performing company to make us feel good about ourselves, Slither was launched to fictitiously undercut our prices, steal our customers, compete more efficiently than seemed possible, and, all the while, enjoy margins that made us green with envy.

Slither became a key part of our culture. We intercepted internal memos from Slither that gave us insight into their strategy. Our team members were asked questions such as, “What’s the one thing that your counterpart at Slither does better than you?” Slither even invaded our company one day, dressed in costumes that represented the opposite of our cultural values.

In today’s challenging times, you probably have real competitors to worry about. But inventing your own ideal enemy and then thinking deeply about how to conquer them can be a powerful technique to drive change and innovation. It will help you focus on the possibilities and remove internal political cloudiness.

Unleash your own fictitious archenemy, and use it as a platform for reinvention. It will help you challenge yourself to reach new heights, drive urgency, and unlock new ideas. This imaginary battlefield will better equip you to win at the real thing.

Throughout my career, my favorite saying has always been: “Someday, a company is going to come along and put us out of business. It might as well be us.” Creating your own version of Slither will help you do just that. Disrupt or be disrupted.