Essays on Technology and Culture

Enemies and Nemeses

Could it be that you need me
To keep you out, to run you faster
Promise me you’ll let me be
The one, the worst of all your enemies
Pretending you’re a friend to me
Say that we’ll be nemeses

Jonathan Coulton w/ John Roderick – “Nemeses”

In business, it helps to have competition. Having someone to challenge you, who will do things you don’t, gives you incentive to step up your game and improve what you do. However, it’s easy to fall into a trap of viewing your competition as unworthy of inspiring you to do your best work, only as something that must be destroyed. Your competition can become your enemy, and that is when things will turn. You focus, instead on what you can do to stop your competitor instead of making your thing better.

Which is why I’ve been thinking of the song I quoted above. The idea of the nemesis as someone who pushes you to new heights just to keep up, like Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes, or Batman and The Joker. Sure, the actual meaning of “nemesis” is a little different, but the principle of the nemesis as foil has merit enough to be common in the folklore. Without your nemesis, what do you have to drive you? What happens to the all-consuming desire to be the best at something, when you have no more competition?

You need someone to keep you out and run you faster. Find them, and keep them close. Closer than your enemies.