Keeping Your Enemies Close

September 5, 2016By Industry Intuition, Views

by Dave Wendland, as seen in HealthCare Distributor magazine, Out of the Box column

July/August 2016

Walt Whitman is credited with saying, "I call to the world to distrust the accounts of my friends, but listen to my enemies, as I myself do."

As the healthcare industry continues unprecedented consolidation, learnings from rivals may be valuable ammunition. Consider creating an advisory team that includes a blend of like-thinkers and former competitors to share ideas and bring significant insight and new strategies.

Here’s a quick snapshot of potential benefits from assembling such a team:

  • Enemies will tell us what we don’t want to hear, unlike friends who may not disagree with a decision or direction. Friends want to protect the relationship, while enemies may not care about losing a friendship and their honesty will be refreshing.
  • Enemies prevent us from becoming "comfortable" or complacent. They continually challenge our thinking and demand that we evolve and grow. Friends may not want to disrupt the status quo.
  • Working alongside an enemy may bring forward opposing viewpoints that will force you to shift your paradigm and strengthen your ability to move your business forward. And, assuming their skillset is complimentary to your areas of weakness, you will have gained a highly competent ally who will push you toward business outcomes with vigor.
  • Enemies will challenge you. Not in a destructive, counter- productive way, but instead in a manner that forces you to properly vet ideas before rushing to judgment. This collaborative effort often leads to a more inventive solution.
  • Surrounding yourself with enemies will also teach you about yourself. Your personal capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses will emerge more prominently in the presence of an enemy, and this serves as an excellent opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Finally, I believe befriending enemies will hone your skills in detecting who to trust and who not to trust. They will force you to build your character and strengthen your integrity. They might even inspire you to try new things through experiences they impart.

Most notably publicized from a historical standpoint, President Lincoln believed in keeping his friends close but also knew that sometimes keeping his enemies closer was even wiser. When Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he knew that the most important of his duties was to select a cabinet that would hold the country together during the civil discontent to come. The wide range of experiences and assets of his appointees, were often at odds and created an infighting that tried Lincoln’s patience while bringing varying viewpoints to tough decisions.

Given today’s political landscape I believe it highly probable that the elected U.S. president may do the same. Clearly the country is facing a tumultuous tide of discontent and uncertainty. Regardless the outcome of the election, it would not be surprising to witness a team of rivals.

And then we have the "enemies" created by U.K.’s departure from the European Union. By mid-summer, I expect that nation’s politicians – of all parties – to have stopped fighting amongst themselves and have started leading the country again. The split from the EU has created divided viewpoints. My hope is that these disparate opinions will result in a highly-stabilized, cooperative environment in the U.K. and across Western Europe. Of course time will tell.

As my role within our company and my industry travels continue to take me to multiple conferences and events throughout the year, I’m always inspired to see so-called-rivals chatting over a cup of coffee or visiting between business sessions. Certainly they are not divulging secrets about their businesses or other confidential information, however I trust they are discussing the industry at large, events affecting consumer healthcare at retail, and political or societal implications to their respective businesses.

It is my intent to continue to seek opportunities to improve my professional skills, our company’s contributions throughout the industry, and sharpen my self-awareness by strengthening friendships and building relationships with my enemies.