The Failure Of Us Versus Them Tactics

Not much has changed in this little town since my wife brought me here 10 years ago. Well one thing has changed – the town is much more divided. Why? Politics. Who benefits? Not the people. Only the politicians. So what will the town look like in another 10 years? I’m guessing, pretty much the same, unless something radical happens, which I doubt.

For millennia, politicians and businesses alike have used an “us versus them” strategy to build brand loyalty. It works, amazingly well. One doesn’t have to look far for examples. Exhibit A: Apple. Apple built a brand around “thinking differently” and in more recent years the Mac vs. PC ads ( which as a devotee I love).

Helping people throw rocks at their enemies is one of the keys to persuasion.

It’s a common tactic of cults.

As teenagers, our parents were the enemy, keeping us from having fun and living the lives we felt we should be living. As we grow up, the enemy might be a boss or coworkers holding us back from reaching our fullest potential.

But enemies don’t have to be physical. They can be ideas. For entrepreneurs, the idea of having to work for someone else in order to be successful is an enemy. Someone’s point of view that we don’t agree with can become an enemy. For some it’s stress, for others the weight they’ve gained.

Enemies can take many forms or no form at all.

Regardless of what it is, this tactics is in heavy use today. But there’s a problem – what happens when you win?

What happens when you feel better, or you’ve lost the weight? What happens when more people are thinking differently, or have become successful with their own business? That’s right – they need a new enemy. And if you don’t provide that enemy then you no longer serve the purpose, and your client moves on.

Michael Jordan is without a doubt one of the best basketball players of all time. Who was he competing with? Himself.

Tiger Woods. Not the best example from a morality standpoint but the man kicked a ton of ass on the course why? Because he was constantly working to improve his game. Sure he beat a lot of people, but he wasn’t really competing against them.

There are many more examples but let me get to my point. Using an “us versus them” tactic only goes so far. Once they’ve overcome this real or imagined enemy you have to dream up a new one. And while many people will argue that people need external motivations, we’ve seen they only go so far.

What you should do instead is help your clients to continuously challenge themselves to do more, to do better. That means setting goals, and upon reaching them set newer ones that are further away.

At the end of the day intrinsic motivations sustain. Help cultivate those, and you’ll see the changes in your clients over time.

Plapak Rice Farming

As for this little town? Well, I’ll keep hoping for the best.


  1. Awesome stuff, Robert. I think many (myself included) tend to compete between our own weaknesses against the strengths of others which really is a silly thing to do. Thanks for the great reminder! 🙂

  2. I actually compares myself to other people before which is the worst thing that I have done. I think the best thing to do is to make yourself better for yourself, not for others.

  3. You’re right. Robert.  I’ve always been an advocate of competing with myself and trying not to live my life in constant comparison to others.  I think comparing myself to others limits us, while competing with yourself is limitless.

    •  @richescorner great point Rich. And as there’s always someone who is doing better than we are, it’s better to look up to those folks and model them than to compare.

  4. bbrian017 says:

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  5. Great post, Robert. I agree with you — whenever an enemy, whether it’s stress, a domineering boss, is taken care of, it’s human nature to find a new enemy. It’s natural to want something else to motivate us. When we make the “enemy” ourselves, though, there’s always inspiration. It’s a nice reminder. Thanks!

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