The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy

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“The purpose of competition is not to beat someone down, but to bring out the best in every player.” Walter Wheeler

One of the signs of boom–or at least a boomlet–is that companies start wanting to drive their competition crazy. This occurs when “survival” is no longer an issue and optimization or maximization can become a corporate goal. However, the desire to do things to the competition can lead a company astray–or drive it to even greater heights.

Companies go astray when defeating the competition becomes more important than taking care of customers. When companies become obsessed with the pursuit of excellence, by contrast, they often reach new levels of greatness. Here’s how to avoid the former and achieve the latter.

1. Know thyself. Before you can drive your competition crazy, you have to understand what your company stands for. Otherwise, you’ll only succeed in driving yourself crazy. For example, Apple stands for cool technology. It will never represent a CIO’s safe bet, an “enterprise software company,” or service and support. If it decided it wanted to drive Microsoft crazy by sucking up to CIOs, it would drive itself crazy–that is, if it didn’t perish trying.

2. Know thy customer. The second step is to truly understand what your customer wants from you–and, for that matter, what it doesn’t want from you. One thing that your customer seldom wants to do is to help you drive your competition crazy. That’s in your head, not your customer’s. One more thing: a good company listens to what a customer says it wants. A great company anticipates what a customer needs–even before she knows she wants it.

3. Know thy enemy. The third step is to truly understand your competition. You cannot drive your competition crazy unless you understand their strengths and weaknesses. You should become your competition’s customer by buying their products and services. I never truly understood what it was like to be a customer of Microsoft until I bought a Sony Vaio and used Windows. Sure, I had read many comparisons and competitive analyses, but they were nothing compared to hands-on usage.

4. Focus on the customer. Here’s what most people find surprising: the best way to drive your competition crazy is not to do anything to it. Rather, the best way is for you to succeed because your success, more than any action, will drive your competition crazy. And the way you become successful is not by figuring out what you can do to the competition but for the customer.

You succeed at doing things for the customer by using the knowledge that you’ve gained in the first three steps: understanding what you do, what your customer wants and needs, and what your competition doesn’t do. At the intersection of these three factors lies the holy grail of driving your competition crazy. For most companies, the key to driving the competition crazy is out-innovating, out-servicing, or out-pricing it.

5. Turn customers into evangelists. There are few things that drive a competitor more crazy than an unpaid, thunderlizard group of customers who become evangelists for a company. I covered this topic in detail in The Art of Evangelism, but the gist is this: create a great product or service, put it out there (“let a hundred flowers blossom”), see who falls in love with it, open up your arms to them (they will come running to you), and then take care of them. It’s that simple.

6. Make good by doing good. Doing good has its own, very sufficient rewards, but sometimes you can make good and do good at the same time. For example, if you own a chain of hardware stores, you can help rebuild a community after a natural disaster. You’re bound to get a lot of publicity and create bonds with the community–this will drive your competition crazy. And you’ll be doing something good!

7. Turn the competition into allies. One way to get rid of your competition is to drive it out of business. I suppose this might be attractive to you, but a better way is to turn your competition into allies. My favorite author of children’s books is Tomie DePaola. My favorite DePaola book is The Knight and the Dragon. This is the story of a knight and a dragon who train to slay each other. They are smashingly unsuccessful at doing battle and eventually decide to go into business together. Using the dragon’s firebreathing ability and the knight’s salesmanship, they create the K & D Bar-B-Q. For example, if a Home Depot opens up next to your hardware store, let it sell the gas barbecues, and you refill people’s propane tanks.

8. Play with their minds. If you’re doing all this positive, good stuff, then it’s okay to have some fun with your competition–that is, to intentionally play with their minds. Here are some examples to inspire you:

  • During the Korean War, the U. S. Army Office of Strategic Services left a supply of condoms for the Communist Chinese to find. The condoms were specially manufactured in an extra-large size. The label on the boxes, however, said, “Made in the USA Size Medium.”
  • Hannibal once had his soldiers tie bundles of brush to the horns of cattle. At night, his soldiers lit the brushwood on fire, and Hannibal’s Roman enemies thought that thousands of soldiers were marching towards them.
  • A pizza company that was entering the Denver market for the first time ran a promotion offering two pizzas for the price of one if customers brought in the torn-out yellow pages ad of its competition.
  • A national hardware store chain opened up right next to a longtime community hardware store. After a period of depression and panic, the store owner came up with a very clever ploy. He put up a sign on the front of his store that said, “Main Entrance.”

If you like this topic, let me know, and I’ll try to write a posting about how to avoid being driven crazy.

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By |2015-03-18T08:11:21+00:00March 30th, 2006|Categories: Books|Tags: |61 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. Michael Willingham March 30, 2006 at 8:51 am - Reply

    Great post, Guy. I would enjoy reading a post on how to avoid being driven crazy.

  2. Gordon in Taiwan March 30, 2006 at 9:01 am - Reply

    More! More! I particularly like these little stories from different industries.

  3. Doug Hanna March 30, 2006 at 9:06 am - Reply

    I like the hardware store example. That’s a good one. The pizza one is good, but not quite as funny.

  4. John March 30, 2006 at 9:25 am - Reply

    An article about not being driven crazy by these same tactics 😉 would be really great.

  5. Mike S March 30, 2006 at 9:27 am - Reply

    I really like the evangelistic part of your work. Its a little different than the viral marketing, because of the intensity involved, but similar.
    Many of the topics you blog about are common sense, but its so great to see them in such digestable form. Real business basics, and thats what VC people look to find.
    If you can answer one of the implied questions above in the positive for a big market, you have a product. If you can answer three, you have a business. If you can do all, you’re huge.

  6. santi March 30, 2006 at 9:31 am - Reply

    This really good, But why dont post more articles on personal selling.

  7. Reinis Ikass March 30, 2006 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Hello, Guy!
    First of all – many thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!
    I relly enjoyed reading your book The Art Of The Start.
    I would love to read about how no to be driven crazy by competition.
    Keep up the great work! 🙂
    Best regards,
    Reinis Ikass

  8. ParadiseFound March 30, 2006 at 9:43 am - Reply

    Great post with some fantastic insights. And the examples you cite are inspirational and innovative. I’m definitely a fan of this topic – please write more.

  9. Stephan H. Wissel March 30, 2006 at 9:51 am - Reply

    Great post, more of it! I definitly looking forward to “How to keep sane when the competition wants to drive you crazy”
    🙂 stw

  10. Kim The Admin March 30, 2006 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Loving it.
    I especially like the real life creative examples.
    Definitely original thinking.

  11. Erik March 30, 2006 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Great article. I would like to emphasize the art of the knowing the customer. Too many people focus too much on their competition and not enough on the people who are buying their goods.
    Out doing your comp is one thing but neither of you will get anywhere if you tailor your product or service to beating the other guy and forget about the little people.

  12. Mike Landman March 30, 2006 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Guy, post away!
    I am always fascinated by companies that are competition driven… I think it Jeff Bezos who said “you can either be a competition-focused company, or a customer-focused company.” For my money, it’s a lot more fun to be a customer-focused company.

  13. caveatBettor March 30, 2006 at 10:37 am - Reply

    I’ve been following Guy since my days as a Cornell freshman (Class of ’84), among the first to use the Mac, and on top of that, among the users to deliver solutions using Acius’ 4th Dimension, first at Cornell and later at JPMorgan. After 2 decades of good times rolling, these posts and this blog are a wonderful reconnection to the wealth of Guy’s experience, wisdom, and humor. Just wanted to say thanks!

  14. TechNovelty March 30, 2006 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Der Mann weiss wovon er redet

    Guy Kawasaki hat auf seinem Weblog Bona tempora volvantur einen sehr interessanten Beitrag mit dem Titel The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy.
    Der Mann weiss wovon er redet, er war einer der ersten Evangelists von Apple. Also dürfte er die Verant…

  15. pinano March 30, 2006 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Good stuff. I would like to hear how to avoid being driven crazy.

  16. Zoli's Blog March 30, 2006 at 11:14 am - Reply

    Why Preaching the “Art of …” is Easier than Doing It

    I enjoy reading Guy Kawasaki’s blog, the “Art of..” series as well as other posts. I find myself agreeing with him most of the time, including his most recent post, The Art of …

  17. Zoli Erdos March 30, 2006 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Guy, thanks for your comment, I’ve fixed my post.

  18. Craig March 30, 2006 at 11:59 am - Reply

    More! How about something on ‘coopetition’ as a way of helping to neutralize the competitors? Do you have any examples in this vein, Guy? We are using this as a focus in our business launch. As it was written in the I Ching: “The sage competes with noone, so noone can compete with him.” One other highly recommended book is Blue Ocean Strategy, which looks at ways to make your competition irrelevant.

  19. olivier blanchard March 30, 2006 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    Fantastic. You’re dead-on, as always.

  20. Adam March 30, 2006 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    Awesome. Definitely post on how to avoid being driven crazy. It is way too easy these days to be taken around the block by competition. Not just in business either.

  21. Chris Morris March 30, 2006 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    More, please.

  22. Brad Hutchings March 30, 2006 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    Great stuff. Don’t forget sending your, um, “best” customers to your competition. If you can keep a straight face, the customer will love you, hate them, and the competitor will appreciate the gesture (but still be driven nuts by the nutcase you sent them).

  23. Pius March 30, 2006 at 1:21 pm - Reply

    Great post. Steve Ballmer ought to read it a few hundred times.

  24. Blake March 30, 2006 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    Embrace your competition. Take them to lunch. Business will increase if you work with not against. There’s more than enough work for all.

  25. mj March 30, 2006 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Beat the Rest. Be the Best.

    Guy has some new rules for revolutionaries. And as usual they’re hilarious as well as informative. How to drive your competition crazy. I have always welcomed competition. I don’t want to be a single player in a market. Sure, if I’m honest, then I do f…

  26. John Seiffer March 30, 2006 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    I’ve always thought the business is war analogy was crazy – as if killing the enemy = success. Ditto the sports analogy. The best analogy in my mind is seduction. Hope I’m not out of line to link to my post about it.

  27. Mark Edwards March 30, 2006 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks Guy. This is your best post to date, with the most practical suggestions.

  28. Startup Fever March 30, 2006 at 4:08 pm - Reply

    The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy

    Guy Kawasaki on the art of driving Your competition crazy:
    One of the signs of boomor at least a boomletis that companies start wanting to drive their competition crazy. This occurs when “survival” is no longer an issue and optimiza…

  29. Jacques Duquesne March 30, 2006 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Once again great post… I especially like the point No.5 which is strategic to me – viral marketing is one of the key to success.
    But it also means that the other points have to be fulfilled in order to “evangelize” them.
    Great post once again 😉

  30. ninefish March 30, 2006 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Great post and not wishing to trivialise it [much], but where did the condom myth come from? I heard the same thing about the Australians and the Kiwis!

  31. Smittie March 30, 2006 at 7:06 pm - Reply>
    “Take off your Burqas”
    An Apache Unit spends four months in Afghanistan making no contact with the enemy. They know the enemy is in the area but they will not engage. So what’s a soldier to do? A little schoolyard ribbing seems to have been all that was required. Of course, then the Taliban came out and got their butts kicked but that was the whole point anyway.
    Originally posted at

  32. Futurelab's Blog March 30, 2006 at 10:36 pm - Reply

    The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy

    by: Guy Kawasaki The purpose of competition is not to beat someone down, but to bring out the best in every player. Walter Wheeler…

  33. Chris - Poland March 31, 2006 at 12:17 am - Reply

    thanks for the summary 😉

  34. Forthcoming March 31, 2006 at 2:02 am - Reply


    Hugh suggest (asking innocently rather) if the thingamy could be a a certain competitor killer. Hamish of course says unequivocally no. I agree with Hamish there, I even added in the comment that why would I bother with such trivial

  35. Mark March 31, 2006 at 2:42 am - Reply

    Really enjoy the clever ways to dethrone a competitor.
    Thanks for the great posts.

  36. Eric Nehrlich March 31, 2006 at 3:50 am - Reply

    First off, interesting post. I like the idea that competition is self-destructive. When you treat the market as a zero-sum game (for one to win, the other has to lose), nothing new is created. It’s the companies that seek to go beyond the gladiatorial arena, that define a whole new playing field, that are successful (shades of the blue ocean strategy, but anyway).
    I do find it interesting that you say, focus on what the customer wants, not what you want, and then one post later, you ask what your readers want so that you can get into the technorati top ten. Why should I, as a reader, care about your technorati ranking? Take your own advice: Focus on producing good content that is interesting to customers (readers), and the rest will sort itself out.

  37. Mike Sigers March 31, 2006 at 5:31 am - Reply

    #8 reminds me to make sure, in nthe internet marketing arena, that marketers realize that your competition is the best place to look to have them sell your product, as your affiliate.
    Think about it. they have customers that want products in your niche. They have customers, as in PROVEN buyers, use your competition to sell more of your product.
    When people are interested in a niche, they don’t just buy ONE product, they buy EVERY product that niche has.

  38. Moments of Clarity March 31, 2006 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Great Summarization

    The most critical factor the Guy Kawasaki lists in his The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy piece is number 5: Turn customers into evangelists. I am an evangelist for one company in particular…however I’m a low profile guy that

  39. Steve S March 31, 2006 at 8:19 am - Reply

    I’m reminded of the time we noticed a lot of Web traffic from our main competitor. Turns out they had just launched a new intranet site, with links to our Web site on it, and it was generating excessive traffic. One friday afternoon, we rerouted all the click-thrus from that site to our “Jobs” page.

  40. Geof Auchinleck March 31, 2006 at 9:14 am - Reply

    We have had considerable success with a particular product because it is much simpler and has far fewer features than the competition’s product. What drives them nuts is that our price is way higher then theirs. Why is this working? Because our customers actually want a product that is simpler and has far fewer features.
    Our first three rules of business? Listen to the customer. Listen to the customer. Listen to the customer.
    Great post Guy! Many thanks.

  41. Strategic Name Development Product Naming Blog March 31, 2006 at 10:12 am - Reply

    Links Du Jour

    Hooters Air Clips its Wings – This may be the dullest product name and brand proposition for an airline in the history of flight. No wonder it is being grounded. There may be a place for irreverent product names that reference women’s anatomy. Airline …

  42. CustomersAreAlways March 31, 2006 at 10:54 am - Reply

    Wise Words From Guy Kawasaki

    I always say that a little competition is good for the soul, but you don’t want to become obsessed with what the competition is doing that you forget what is most important: your own customer.

  43. MedBillAdvisor Blog March 31, 2006 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Another good article from GuyK. Ive trimmed it up a little so head over to the site for the complete article
    The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy
    One of the signs of boomor at least a boomletis that companies start wan…

  44. Patrick March 31, 2006 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    You can either lead today or follow tomorrow.

  45. Tech-Blog March 31, 2006 at 4:24 pm - Reply

    links for 2006-04-01

    Bona tempora volvantur–by Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy tips for thriving in a competitive environment (tags: business marketing tips)

  46. Neil Patel March 31, 2006 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Great post, Sounds like the “Play with their minds” section is all about innovative ways of marketing. I’d also love to see what you have to say about how to avoid being driven crazy.

  47. Futurelab's Blog April 2, 2006 at 8:57 am - Reply

    How to Remain Sane

    by: Guy Kawasaki This is the flip side to The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy. It’s meant to help you avoid being driven crazy by your competition. This isn’t a top ten–it’s only a top five because the key…

  48. Expertise Marketplace - Professional Service Firm Marketing Blog April 2, 2006 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Mischief and Diabolical Moves

    Guy Kawasaki’s blog post on The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy brings up thought-provoking and timely questions for professional service firms — especially if the PSF marketplace hits another economic downturn. Below is my version of a point –

  49. Marjan Steneker April 3, 2006 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    I’m always very happy to see someone plying the customer card!
    It’s as with every sport: keep your eyes on the ball!
    Keep up the good work.

  50. Will Southerland April 11, 2006 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    Know your enemy as well as you know yourself and you will always be victorious. – Sun Tzu

  51. Ancora Imparo April 11, 2006 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    The Art of Driving Your Competition Crazy

    I did not bring enough to read with me on vacation. I have been told there is a book store in Zurich…

  52. Brandon Seifert April 18, 2006 at 12:49 am - Reply

    This is good stuff. I recognize some of these tricks… from when my competition used them against me. I’d definitely like more.

  53. Adventures in Entrepreneurship with Jeremy Hanks April 18, 2006 at 11:06 am - Reply

    Focus on Thy Employees!

    One of my favorite blogs is Guy Kawasaki’s Bona tempora volvantur. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re unfamiliar with Kawasaki’s work, you need to check him out. Guy Kawasaki is one of the managing directors over at Garage Technology Ventures…

  54. Zoli's Blog May 1, 2006 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Gold Medal for Listening to Customers

    And the Gold goes to: Vyew.  
    Dennis and I both posted about this free

  55. ahmadre June 14, 2006 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks – We used part of your post to help our Sports Club being more competitive and competitor/customer-friendly. Great work Guy!

  56. Strategic Name Development Product Naming Blog June 16, 2006 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Links Du Jour

    Playboy Towel promotion – An interesting way to promote the Playboy name using beach towels. What will they think of next? Dodge Looks Online to Reach Young Buyers – Dodge Caliber is going online to hit the elusive 25-35s. Interesting brand name initia…

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