Monday, April 27, 2009

Hatred is a bad business driver

We're all aware of how hatred being a powerful force in the world - leading to so much misery, suffering and unhappiness. Hate is a destructive emotion that can control us completely.

In psychology, Sigmund Freud defined hate as an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness. In philosophy, Aristotle viewed hate as a desire for the annihilation of an object that is incurable by time.

If we all recognize hate as such a powerful and negative force in the world, why are so many business leaders driven by hate for the competition, and feel it can be a rallying cry for the organization.

I remember being at Novell in the late 90's and feeling absolute hate emanating towards Microsoft.  This was despite us all using many of their products internally - including Windows - Microsoft has some extremely good products (Excel is a case in point). Novell's hatred of Microsoft caused them to go on an irrational buying binge to assemble products (Wordperfect, DR DOS et al) and compete head-on with Microsoft. As we know, this didn't work - nobody can beat a bigger adversary by attacking them head on.  Hatred created a flawed strategy that led to failure.

Instead of trying to take out Microsoft directly, Novell had multiple chances to create and dominate industries where Microsoft was not strong.  Novell could have been NetScape, EMC, Cisco (Novell had a multiprotocol router before anyone else), RSA etc. Novell had one of the largest installed bases in the world, and could leverage these assets in so many positive ways to create and grow. Novell could have channeled their energy from hating Microsoft into making them irrelevant.  We all know that Google doesn't have a close relationship with Microsoft, but they are attacking not by destroying what Microsoft has created, but by being creative and moving the industry to new ways of doing business.

Another company I worked at had a CEO very focused on hating a key competitor, and had previously built the company on hatred of another competitor.  The company had been successful, however, both competitors were still in business, and had a higher market cap - the company still competed directly.  I wasn't at all motivated by a strategy of hate (the competitors actually had pretty good products), and felt that we had much better opportunities to make them irrelevant by moving into a Blue Ocean and taking our business upmarket.

The takeaways here are:
  1. Don't be driven solely by hate, or assume it's motivating to your organization.
  2. There is nothing wrong with respecting a strong competitor and their products.
  3. It's OK to have a strategy of taking business from your competitors (hey that's capitalism), but do it by creating and not destroying.
Martin Luther King said "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

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