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What We Can Learn From The Top Business Rivalries Of 2016

We take a look into the biggest business rivalries today and explore the lessons we can learn from them.

Destiny’s children: Fast Company editor Robert Safian, left, relaxes with his brother. Sometimes we’re linked in ways we don’t see.

My brother, Tommy, and I shared a room growing up, and though we don’t share a room anymore, we still share almost everything else. He was the best man at my wedding. We live in the same neighborhood, just a few blocks apart, and see each other all the time. Our kids are best friends.

That doesn’t mean we don’t argue sometimes. We definitely have different ways of doing things. Unlike the nefarious sibling rivalries in most fables and storytelling, though, ours is more nuanced. We certainly know how to annoy each other, but there’s a lot we learn from each other, and the tension can be helpful.

Rivalries are endemic to business, and they can be similarly enlightening. Sometimes those rivalries are within a family (as is the case with Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios). Sometimes they’re nascent and unexpected (as we show with Tinder and Postmates). If viewed through the right prism, rivalries lead to illumination: By looking at two businesses in relation to each other, we can better understand the entire arena—and draw valuable lessons.

This issue explores 22 modern-day business rivalries, from the one between Chobani and Yoplait-maker General Mills (who have attacked each other on store shelves, in adver­tising, and through legal briefs) to more virtual head-to-head battles like Snapchat versus Facebook. Senior writer Austin Carr takes us inside the tumultuous, evolving world of private space exploration, comparing Elon Musk’s approach at SpaceX with Jeff Bezos’s at Blue Origin. SpaceX and Blue Origin are reflections of their leaders, and their competition provides critical fuel for addressing some mind-bendingly complicated challenges. It’s likely that neither would have achieved what they have so far if the specter of the other weren’t prodding them along.

Our goal is not to blindly extol conflict or fan flames of distrust. We strongly believe that a culture of mutual learning can yield better, more creative results than a culture predicated primarily on you-versus-me. Life is not a zero-sumgame, and neither is the marketplace (whatever "first-mover advantage" myths may still exist). But competition is both a reality and unavoidable—and it is motivating. Competition is a reflection of ambition, and ambition should not be wasted or ignored, particularly when it’s harnessed for causes beyond ourselves.

So yes, my brother and I do engage in rivalry. But this is not a Cain and Abel tale. We are not struggling over a single birthright that if one wins, the other loses. The opportunities are far broader than that. We are each struggling to maximize our own potential. We are using each other to test our assumptions and relying on each other to explore what is possible, what is appropriate, what can truly have impact in the larger sense. As with all the best rivalries, regardless of what conflicts arise, I am my brother’s keeper. And he is mine. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August issue of Fast Company magazine.

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