Friendship in the age of competition

I was reminded last week of a story someone who worked at Netscape a while ago told me. This person was at an industry conference wearing a Netscape T-Shirt, when someone who apparently worked at Microsoft walked up to him and said, "We're going to kill you." and completed the picture by glaring manically, gesturing a slit-of-the-throat and laughing as he clicked his tongue and left. Thats the sort of rubbish stays with you, and is the sort of the thing that comes right from the top. That sort of rubbish is also the kind of stuff I never want to deal with if I can help it.

It takes a special kind of corporate brainwashing to get people to behave that way. Such zeal is usually the domain of religion...and sports fans. :) Most companies have a tradition of painting the competition in a negative light. Some do it subtly, others don't.

Google, fortunately, is run by adults and in general our internal attitude and conversations towards competition (respectful, honest, genuinely admiring when appropriate) is something I'm very thankful for.

Increasingly, I know an extraordinary amount of people at the companies most would consider competition and many are good friends. A few days ago, for the very first time, I had a surprisingly awkward conversation with a friend who works at a company most would consider a competitor of Google's. It was one-of-those "both of us should stop talking, else this could get weird" moments. So a little later, I thought about how I should be thinking about these relationships. Yes, that's a weird sentence.
  • Friends first: Respect the friendship. Don't try to misuse any relationship for information, or put the person in an uncomfortable position, and be comfortable enough saying "Hey man, I can't say anything about that."
  • Its stupid to ignore reality: The Internet industry has so many frenemy-esque relationships, its impossible not to recognize there's always a bit of a conflict brewing. Always have that at the back of your mind.
  • Be genuinely appreciative: If a competitor does something impressive, be impressed... and happy. Learn from it, congratulate your friends at the company on it, challenge yourself to do something better, and don't waste time being envious or annoyed. If something made the world a better place, its a good thing.
  • Its fine to talk shop, just not about your merchandise: I can't imagine not talking about the industries I think about or the companies that are part of it. You share the things you care about most with your friends, and with many of these relationships our passion for these spaces is what we hold most in common. These conversations have to be slightly more guarded, but don't stop having them. There's still a lot you learn even if both of you can't share a 100% of what you know.


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