Zuck vs. Musk: please, no more fighting

Could the roots of war lie in the way we think about business? A call for collaboration beyond organizational boundaries.

A historical painting depicting two men engaged in a boxing match, surrounded by an attentive crowd.
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash. Who do these men resemble?


Are two of the world’s wealthiest individuals, Elon “The Rocket Man” Musk and Mark “The Reality Shifter” Zuckerberg, actually planning to fight each other in a cage match [1]? “Man” against “man”. Mano a mano. Pure — Raw —Brutal.

This looming spectacle, while seemingly absurd, neatly captures the combative mentality that can so easily infect our work environments and, by extension, the world at large. It’s a mentality that pits us against each other in a relentless race for supremacy. A “cock-a-cock” of who has the largest … um, strength? Or, as my wife suggested, just an attention grabber; a very elaborate marketing stunt?

In my view, all wars are fueled by envy, driven by greed, and disguised as noble causes. This observation extends beyond the realm of geopolitics to find troubling echoes in parts of the business world.

While it’s easy to find literature that discusses the negative effects of internal competition while advocating for collaboration [2], it’s harder to find resources that explore the negative effects of our competitiveness beyond organizational boundaries. However, given the way business and politics influence each other, the question arises:

Could the roots of war really lie in the way we think about business?

A story from the past — How Intel crushed their enemy

Recently, in the process of honing my project management skills, I dug into John Doerr’s book Measure What Matters [3]. While I was mesmerized by the elegance of objectives and key results OKRs [4] — an ingeniously simple goal-setting and progress evaluation framework—I encountered jargon and mindsets that were greatly at odds with my personal values.

Chapter 3, “Operation Crush,” recounts Intel’s struggle in the late ’70s. Under “life-threatening” conditions imposed by Motorola’s superior chip, Intel was on the verge of being “defeated.”

There’s only one company competing with us, and that’s Motorola. The 68000 is the competition. We have to kill Motorola, that’s the name of the game. We have to crush the f — king bastards. We’re gonna roll over Motorola and make sure they don’t come back again. — Intel’s Jim Lally

A GIF from ‘The Office’ showing the character Jim Halpert with a surprised and slightly shocked expression on his face.

Their response was to implement company-wide OKRs [4] to unite their team around the goal of “crushing” Motorola. By the end of their campaign, they had succeeded not by creating a superior product, but by convincing their customers to value long-term systems and services over short-term convenience. It was a master class in unified storytelling—in “make-believe.”

This example illustrates perfectly how collaboration, a common thread, or in this case, a common “threat,” can align people’s goals. But is that a good thing when the purpose of collaboration is to “destroy”?

The corporate narrative, as revealed in this chapter, is portrayed as a battlefield, “fighting the enemy” and “triumphing over the competition.”

Stop for a moment and think.

Work isn’t war.

This isn’t a war zone; Work isn’t War [5]. It’s where we spend a significant portion of our lives and where, at least as far as I’m concerned, we should be striving to create value and make some sort of meaningful impact. The only people who find themselves in “battles”, struggling to “survive” in the face of corporate greed, are those on the receiving end of its exploitation.

Intel’s motives at the time, as far as I can tell, were anything but noble. Would the world be worse off today if we all used Motorola’s or someone else’s chips instead of Intel’s? I seriously doubt it.

Collaboration beyond artificial borders

In today’s world, many companies strive to emulate the tech giants, and “collaboration” has become one of the most overused buzzwords. Yet, this spirit of collaboration rarely seems to extend beyond the walls of the enterprise. The prevailing motivation still seems to be to “win” against the competition, with little room for true collaboration outside of that.

The looming negative consequences of lagging behind can trigger anxiety and prompt people to resort to mis-selling, fraud, and lying to customers. — HBR, The Pros and Cons of Competition Among Employees

In a 2017 HBR article titled The Pros and Cons of Competition Among Employees [6], researchers highlighted the significant role of emotions in competitive scenarios, stating that “how a competition makes people feel plays a crucial role for how they try to win.” While the study focused on intra-organizational dynamics, its findings can be translated to inter-organizational competition.

Even if healthy competition within an organization leads to happy and creative employees, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re motivated for the “right” reasons. Excessive competition with other companies can lead to the same negative outcomes as internal competition and unethical behavior such as “mis-selling, cheating, and lying to customers,” driven by collective anxiety about “losing to the enemy.”

One might argue that competition can drive innovation and improve products and services, suggesting that the key is to strike a balance between competition and collaboration. While there is some truth to this, I would challenge this notion by asking:

  • Are there no other incentives that can drive innovation just as much, if not more?
  • If financial gains were constrained, wouldn’t we still be driven to innovate because of the inherent value it creates?
  • Isn’t the process of solving problems intrinsically rewarding in itself?
  • And wouldn’t that sense of fulfillment be enhanced if our efforts were directed to the “right” causes? You know, little things like, say, equity?

At the heart of the matter is how we define “value.” When value is equated solely with monetary gain, it shapes a company’s work ethic, nudges employees toward self-interest, and sets the stage for conflict. When mere participation or contribution isn’t enough, when the focus shifts to outperforming others at all costs, we’re headed down a slippery slope.

In such an environment, companies that begin with noble intentions can easily lose sight of their original mission as they transition from private to shareholder ownership. Innovation, originally intended to solve problems and improve lives, can be repurposed as a mere tool to increase profit margins. The noble cause of enriching society, gradually be eclipsed by greed, becomes empty rhetoric.

Take the 2021 incident in which three Google employees were fired for standing up to standing up to “evil” [7] after the company’s stance had morphed over the course of about two decades from “‘don’t do evil’ to ‘do the right thing.’” May I ask, right for whom?

“Google realized that ‘don’t be evil’ was both costing it money and driving workers to organize”. “Rather than admit that their stance had changed and lose the accompanying benefits to the company image, Google fired employees who were living the motto.” — the fired employees said in a statement in 2021.

The misalignment of values and goals is a substantial problem.

I long for a shift in our collective narrative from a narrow focus on “winning wars for personal gain” to a more inclusive ethos of “building a kinder world, together.”

My personal journey has taught me that when I stopped viewing every interaction as a competition to be won, I made more connections and, paradoxically, performed at a higher level ever since. It was as if, by not trying to win, I became more motivated to excel.

After all, work is not a battlefield, and most of us are not soldiers. We’re human beings, and since we’re all going to die at some point — it’s science, look it up — it’s clear that as long as nature allows, we’re not here to survive, we’re here to live. So please, stop the killing already.

Redefining success — New paradigms

A vibrant photograph of a colorful 1960s VW van decorated with the phrases “Peace”, “Don’t worry be hippie”, and “Make love not war”.
Photo by Vasilios Muselimis on Unsplash

While, of course, I can’t claim with any certainty that an aggressive tone of business directly causes wars, it is undeniable that the negative externalities [8] resulting from ruthless business strategies designed to “crush” significantly shape our world in many ways. They mold our political landscape and influence how we perceive and interact with each other.

Perhaps if we weren’t constantly made to believe that we were on the verge of “losing” something, we might feel less anxious, causing a motivational shift. Perhaps, as banal as it sounds, if we paid more attention to the language we use to describe our problems — business as well as personal — we might develop kinder attitudes and find more compassionate solutions.

Please try to imagine a world without envy or greed.

A world where success isn’t defined by outsmarting others in a game of chicken, but by a continuous journey toward excellence through mutual support. I don’t believe people will stop striving to do better, or stop raising their standards with each achievement, without a battle to win.

Sure, executive salaries may take a hit — perfect — but I’m convinced that the absence of ‘do-or-die’ competition will not halt human progress. It’s time we stopped fighting each other for the gains of a privileged few.

Instead, new incentives [9] could inspire us to excel for reasons other than monetary gain, while avoiding cultures steeped in perpetual stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, and instead boost creativity [6].

I’m dreaming again, but a world without envy and greed might be a world without the need for soldiers. Or two grown men kicking each other's butts for no apparent reason except maybe envy of who has the largest … um, empire?

Thank you for taking the time to read, I deeply appreciate your investment and I hope my words have brought you some value. I can only try to convey my truth. But since my truth is not the truth, but merely one truth — it remains open for discussion.


  1. A ‘Cage Match’ Between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg May Be No Joke by Mike Isaac, New York Times, 01 July 2023.
  2. Competitive Culture and How It Damages the Workplace by Valeria Sabater, Yourmind, 07 June 2023.
  3. Measure What Matters by John Doerr, published 24 April 2018.
  4. https://www.whatmatters.com/faqs/okr-meaning-definition-example Official OKR website.
  5. 37signals is a Chicago-based web application company known for creating project management tools like Basecamp and Ruby on Rails, and for its innovative approach to work culture and business philosophy.
  6. The Pros and Cons of Competition Among Employees by Francesca Gino, HBR, 16 March 2017.
  7. Don’t be evil — Wikipedia, Google’s code of conduct, Wikipedia.
  8. Accounting for Externalities, Center of Humane Technology.
  9. Five Non-Monetary Ways To Incentivize Your Employees, by James Gilbert, Forbes, 08 July 2019.

Zuck vs. Musk: please, no more fighting was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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