Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi. Steve Jobs vs. Bill Gates. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. The New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox.
There are many famous rivalries in history. These rivalries featured some measure of animosity and competition, yet they accomplished something bigger: they pushed the parties involved to be better than they would have been otherwise. Each of these rivalries revolutionized their industry, whether it was soda, computers, or baseball.
Last week another rivalry came to a head between Amazon Founder & CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Both billionaires have been developing pet space projects for over a decade: Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, and Elon Musk created SpaceX two years later. On November 24th, Blue Origin announced they had successfully launched a rocket into space and landed it again, making history.
These ventures have had different approaches to the development of reusable rockets, and their end goals also differ; Blue Origin hopes to target wealthy space tourists, while SpaceX wants to sell to large corporations and the government. But differences haven’t dampened the rivalry: from fighting over launch pad space to stealing each other’s employees, the competition has been intense. Yet this rivalry will also revolutionize space technology.
We can all take a few notes from Bezos and Musk, even if we’re not internationally known billionaires with dreams of Mars. While some rivalries can devolve into petty feuds, others can result in feats of invention and ingenuity.
Here are four reasons you should try to get the most out of a budding rivalry at work:
1. Rivals can push you… positively
Several studies have shown people perform better when they know they’re competing against a rival. This rival is typically someone who is performing well in a similar role to your own. They challenge you, whether it’s through a different approach or better results.
Some people may give in to feeling frustrated and angry. Instead, you should lean in to the challenge: let their success motivate you to work harder. Maybe you were coasting a bit as a top performer before they joined the team… their work should be a catalyst for you to re-engage and double down. Put in the hours to over-deliver. Meet your deadlines, and then hustle to do even more. When they match your efforts, push yourself to go further. As long as the relationship isn’t hostile, rivals can light a fire under you and push you to do more than you expected.
2. Rivals highlight your weaknesses
While Blue Origin and SpaceX closely guard the science behind their work, both the programs and their founders have been able to learn from each other as they make attempts at successfully landing their rockets. Musk has been dismissive of the extent of Bezos’s success last week, but he’s also likely taking careful notes for his own technology.
Watching a rival at work can also reveal areas you need to improve on. Maybe their work product is just as good, but they’re more efficient. Or they have the same responsibilities, but they’re better at collaborating. Look at how your rival works, and notice what they’re doing that you don’t. Try copying their approach, and see if it makes a difference.
If you struggle to find a practice of theirs to imitate, talk to your manager: ask them to rank the two of you, and then ask for honest feedback about what you could be doing to improve.
3. Rivals promote creativity
Competing against someone in your field – particularly someone who is as good or better at the role – can compel you to find new, creative ways to excel. Discover faster ways to execute time-consuming tasks; find new workarounds for persistent issues you face; or brainstorm new initiatives that the company or your team could own. Facing friendly competition can often inspire new ideas or prompt you to look at problems from a new angle. If your rival is doing the same thing, use their ideas as inspiration, and take them farther.
4. Everybody wins
When you and your rival vie to be the best, everyone at the company wins. A competitive, creative environment produces better ideas, improved performance, and more results from everyone.
Not only are Bezos and Musk changing the nature of space travel – and potentially cutting the costs by a factor of 10 – but they’re creating jobs, building successful companies, and pushing other scientists and innovators to keep up. These two billionaires aren’t likely to be best friends any time soon… but their rivalry over aerospace innovation is already benefiting the industry, our country, and the world.