The Return Of The Common Enemy

As we're ending Veteran's Day in the US (Armistice Day in France), I'd like to share with you the content of a post I wrote last May. This is my way to show military members gratitude for their sacrifice.

I thought exploring a pattern typical of powerful strategic narratives again would be appropriate: the fight against a common enemy.

During World War I, the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the United States) were ideologically different, or even opposite, in some cases. However, when fighting the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire), they managed to find common ground and created an alliance. When there is a common enemy, people from opposite ideologies come together.

Although the metaphor of War in business can sometimes lead to oversimplifications, it is still interesting to observe that identifying a clear common enemy helps companies run better.

A clear enemy

Companies with a strong strategic narrative target a distinct enemy. Here are a few examples:

Salesforce (in the early 2000s): software

Tesla: fossil fuel

Nike: a mediocre world

IT cosmetics: insecurity

Impossible Foods: meat from animals

Tom's: bare feet

T-Mobile: the traditional carrier

Southwest Airlines: hidden fees

Charity: water: the water crisis

HubSpot: interruption by marketers and salespeople

Even world peace needs an enemy and a conflict to resolve.

Why framing conflict matters.

Picking an enemy is an archetypal pattern to rally and align people around a strategic narrative. If we all have the same enemy, there is a reason to adopt the same strategy to defeat it.

As humans, we are riveted by conflict. In any narrative, no problem is a problem. Conflict creates drama, and our brains crave drama. To have a conflict, you have to have an enemy to fight.

When speaking about the stages of human development, Psychologist Jean Piaget once said that "the ego arises by opposing itself". This means that we need to find ourselves "in front of" others to find ourselves in front of our destiny. Thus, the challenges that we face represent a chance to help us define who we are.

More and more, business leaders have to act as a caretaker for society. As a CEO or a business leader, you are now responsible for some of the new narratives that society depends upon. You have an opportunity to create a business that stands for some of the fights that we all care about. Your customers, colleagues, partners, and investors will seize the chance to fight your enemy as a way to "position" themselves within the context of society. Fighting a common enemy creates a sense of belonging.

Later, your enemy will continue to motivate your community way beyond the transactional act of buying your product or service. People join a movement and want to continue to belong.

Europe: the need for a new enemy.

Regions, too, need to work on identifying their common enemy. That's the case for Europe.

We created the concept of the European Union to fight wars. This regional narrative emerged after decades of conflicts. Since the 1950s, War is way less of a concern. While we should welcome this progress, it looks like the European Union struggles to renew a common sense of purpose with a strategic narrative that every country shares.

No more common enemy means too much room left to generate tensions based on old conflicts between ethnicities. Europe should find its new common enemy to avoid fighting for the wrong ones.

Yet, it would be easy to pick a common enemy from a long list of options that we all know too well: unemployment, poverty, inequality, etc.

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