I was in the room the night that John Thompson told the press that “Manley Field House is officially closed,” right after Sleepy Floyd hit a pair of free throws to beat Syracuse and ended our 57-game home winning streak. Boy, did I dislike that guy. And I wasn’t alone. I rarely missed a Syracuse-Georgetown game on TV over the past 30 years and never failed to be upset when the Hoyas were lucky enough to win or celebrate when they went down to defeat. I even owned at one point a shirt that said, “My two favorite teams are Syracuse and whoever is playing Georgetown.”
When Syracuse announced that it was leaving the Big East for the ACC, I was sad. I grew up with Boeheim against Louie, Rollie, Thompson (no first name for him). I said it will never be the same, even though we were joining a great conference. I grew up a Big East guy…and a Georgetown hater. It even led to friendly rivalries at work, where you couldn’t turn a corner without bumping into a senior executive with a Georgetown degree.
And now, I sort-of don’t care. I kind-of feel like an ACC guy already.
Syracuse walked over North Carolina this afternoon. I tweeted earlier in the day that it was Game 1 of what would become a great rivalry (along with Duke). But I DVR’d the game (because of a high-school basketball practice), although both Max and I turned off our phones to make sure we didn’t accidentally see the score. That rarely happened with Syracuse-Georgetown.
Right now, the joy of victory is not amplified by emotion, like it was in the old days. Some day perhaps, but it will require a game like that Syracuse-Georgetown game back in 1980 to get the juices flowing. That’s how a rivalry starts. And I have to admit I miss it a bit.
Rivalries fuel emotion. I don’t think there are enough of them in business — either between two competitors fighting tooth and nail or inside the company. There have been times in my career when a “rival” pushed me to be my best, to go beyond the day to day to create something memorable. AT MBNA, affinity-program competition with First USA led us to change our renewal approach and focus less on chest-pounding and more on what was in it for our groups. We created a negotiations strategy, a group-visit room that could be customized for a partner visit, and an entirely new way to approach sales proposals. And won a lot of deals.
These days, your “rivals” just seem to be the people who throw up barriers in your path or fail to respond to e-mails or just won’t make decisions. The ones who are prone to focus on process over innovation. You get angry, but it’s more of a deflated feeling than once that motivates you to do better or be better.
The presence of a rival can be a good thing, pushing us to be better. If you’re struggling with motivation, the introduction of a little head-to-head competition can be a great thing. However, rivalries should be handled with care. Guard against obsession and if the presence of that rival isn’t making you better, cut free and focus on your own game. Think about whether a corporate emphasis on collaboration over execution has dulled your edge, and then look at whether the creation of a rivalry might be a helpful thing.
What about you? Have you benefited from the existence of a rivalry with either a business competitor or an in-house peer? How did you keep it positive?