The under appreciated benefits of having a creative rival

Sherlock trying to guess Moriarty’s next move.

You know how everyone tells you you need to find your mentor? This blog post isn’t about that. This is about the under-appreciated benefits of having an intense creative rival. Having a healthy and respectful rivalry can be an incredible driving force that can lead you to your best work.

Maybe you had one in art school, and the thought of him presenting his drawing at critique the next day motivated you to stay up late the night before to make sure yours was better. Seeing that smug face after he received the professor’s compliment last critique was enough. This time, that compliment was going to be yours.

Let’s be clear: you have to have something at stake to make your rivalry meaningful. You can’t both win. The conference is only accepting one speaker from your company and it’s either you or her. The product manager will only be choosing one design, and it’s either yours or hers. There will be one winner and one loser. It’s a beautifully potent mix of being afraid of failure and not wanting to see your rival win that can drive you to your very best work. Cultivate that. And know that your rival is benefiting from this, too.

It helps to have some skin in the game, some healthy animosity to keep your drive alive. But think about it like Sherlock and Moriarty: even though Sherlock abhors Moriarty’s goals and tactics, he appreciates his mad genius. Sherlock recognizes that having a villain as smart as Moriarty keeps him sharp. And when Moriarty defeats Sherlock, he has to concede that it was because Moriarty was smarter. Having a rivalry doesn’t mean having an enemy. You can clap respectfully from the sidelines when your rival beats you… because you’re learning from his approach. And plus, you’re already scheming your next move.

Here’s a really big caveat, though. I play nice and I like it when people get along. It’s not going to work if your rival is on your own team because you won’t be able to work collaboratively with them. The team comes first, always. If your personal definition of success is having another teammate lose, that’s no bueno. Do whatever you need to do to be the better man and rise above it. There’s a time to humbly acknowledge the strengths in a fellow teammate, even if you don’t personally get along with them. If they’re on your team, their loss is your loss. And your win is their win.

That said, here’s a few rivalries that the world benefited from:
Thomas Edison vs Nikola Tesla (the original AC/DC)
Michelangelo vs Raphael vs Da Vinci
Katy Perry vs Taylor Swift
Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning
Adidas vs Puma — (did you know they were brothers?)

Don’t have a rival? Time to find one!