Enemies Required

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Shifting culture isn’t easily achieved; whilst we hope for noble cooperation, weightier tension is required to create bonds among a group. For people to put aside their differences and work collaboratively, we need a threat sufficiently eclipsing our internal political or organizational conflicts – either a catastrophe or an enemy.


Getting towards the end of the year we look for next year’s need. Leaders and seniors talk lately about collaborative culture – creating, changing, improving, etc. Shifting culture within an organization is difficult, and whilst a positive corporate culture can be infectious, normally the sponsors for those efforts aren’t the ones talking about the need to change.

Changing culture is challenging, the results often falling by the wayside as we make many projects publicly visible, yet still have limited effects. Grand visions don’t translate well for individuals at lower levels, in/inter-group competition is human nature politely camouflaged.


Sufficient catastrophes or external threats give differences pause, abandoning our minor conflicts whilst the larger outside issue is resolved. In some cases it may not take long or require tremendous effort, but the perceived needs of survival play a pivotal role – potentially having extended/extensive positive effects by proxy.

For short-term reset, catastrophes are preferable. The lack of risk or threat amidst the chaos and destruction means the focus is purely on recovery. The trouble using disasters as sources of unity among groups is their unpredictable and intermittent nature; not creating consistent challenge to maintain positive, cohesive dynamics. Over time, the tensions paused by recovery efforts will return, unless the positive cultural shift was sufficient to continue.

Enemies are more sustainable in building cohesion. Properly adopted, they create a polarizing catalyst, fueling a drive to protect what the group considers their own. Enemies aren’t new to our thinking, though we often view them as elements within the organization we battle with for resource allocation or lanes-of-the-road. Shifting to an external set of enemies gives groups the external tension necessary to overlook internal slights – the threat is bigger, looming closer than the horizon.

In cyber, enemies are plentiful, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of criminal and nation-state hackers looking to find the one chink of the armour to exploit. Whilst the vast majority are not sophisticated enough to break through, all it really takes is an unlucky break at the wrong time across an organization’s vast surface area to get in and wreak havoc. How many attacks has your organisation dealt with in the last twenty-four hours? Everything being messaging – the tangible, near-miss possibility of an enemy getting within borders and closing on crown-jewels can be used to galvanize the various components to work collectively to prevent occurrence (of course, you have to know what those jewels are – from both network/business perspective).

The difficulty comes from seeing malicious actors as enemies, not part of the normal course of business. Tsunamis and tides.