The Value of Picking Fights

There is a stigma against picking fights.  It's seen as crude, immature, and cheap.  Anyone who has been with me after a few drinks knows that I have a different point of view.  Actually, even in the most sober of states, I'm more than happy to pick a fight or push someone a little too far.

It's not because I'm hoping for an actual all out brawl or because I revel in the discomfort of others, but because I understand the emotion that it can evoke.  When speaking to coworkers and employees, if you position an upcoming competitive task as a fight rather than just an objective, they are far more likely to fiercely rally behind the cause, and your opponent is much more likely to feel intense heat from your efforts rather than just an uninspired flicker.

Examples of this strategy can be seen across the business world.  Larry Ellison is the perfect example.  Boisterous and provocative, he doesn't see things in gray, only black and white.  Right and wrong.  Oracle or a contender.  When he hired Mark Hurd, he didn't shy away from confrontation -- he went so far as to step over the line and immediately called into question the entire HP partnership.  He rallied the troops and spit fire, and HP limped away.

The same strategy can hold true for startups and small companies.  One of my favorite marketing strategies of the past year was when Posterous called out Tumblr and encouraged people to "graduate" and switch services.  They could have been coy and hinted at the advantages associated with Posterous, but they instead chose to be blunt and pick a fight.  I don't know the final results of the campaign, but I know it convinced me and was a well trafficked promotion.

While business has good examples of the value in picking fights, the best niche is probably politics.  Look at the tea party -- isn't that what they're doing (maybe the only thing)?  

A couple weeks ago, I was disappointed to read that President Obama was shying away from a public fight and was going to use a loophole to temporarily appoint Elizabeth Warren as the chief consumer watchdog.  

I understand that it's a delicate time of year for politicians, but I cannot understand how it would hurt his standing to publicly advocate and fight for a nominee whose sole charge is to protect consumers from Wall St.  That would be a hell of a rallying cry for the November GOTV efforts.  However, by avoiding the fight, the issue has slipped virtually under the radar and the administration is unable to leverage the fervor that a public fight would stir up.

I'm not saying that you should use a sledgehammer to kill ants -- many situations are still best resolved by discussion and compromise.  However, it's important to remember the value of picking a fight when you want to really create momentum, corner a competitor, or rally the base.  Don't be afraid to throw the first punch.