“Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you. Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you.” While U2 may not have had Steve Jobs in mind when they wrote this lyric, it is a rather succinct description of his leadership style. A year before he died in 2011, Steve Jobs set out Apple’s agenda to his top 100 executives, “Holy war with Google” was the first point.

Anyone with a vision will create enemies – you can’t want to change the world and not ruffle some feathers. But enemies needn’t just be an unfortunate consequences of taking a stance. There is strategic value to be found in identifying a worthy adversary.

Apple was born in opposition to the evil empire that was IBM, then crusaded against Microsoft and finally declared corporate jihad on Google. Steve Jobs’ promiscuity in his animosities and ruthlessness in dropping long-standing foes when they outlived their usefulness stemmed from his recognition of the importance in having the right enemy to push against to clarify your purpose, focus your effort and up your game – in effect to define you.

All great rivalries whether BA vs Virgin, Real Madrid vs Barcelona, Athens vs. Sparta, The US vs USSR are about more than the simple will to win, they are a battle between contrasting values and purposes. Competition makes concrete differences in philosophy and so forces antagonists to stay honest to core principles while spurring them to greater heights. Conflict also engages the public. It forces people to get involved and take sides. It turns simple decisions into vote of ideological support and adds associated drama and news interest to proceedings.

While our noble instincts might frown upon hostility, Apple has certainly reaped the benefits of being in a perpetual state of war. A fact that would not surprise Harry Lime, who had the last word in his scene in The Third Man, as in fact he does with this blog post… “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

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