Competition is the lifeblood and bane of entrepreneurs. You live to mix it up with other companies and find a way to emerge victorious. And yet, spending all that time worrying about rivals is wearying and can distract you from concentrating on customers or working more effectively with employees.

As you could learn from classic martial arts, a straight-on clash is not necessarily the most effective way to deal with an opponent. Better to use someone's strength and power against him or her and find a way to turn that into a benefit for you. Here are four ways you can use a competitor to sharpen your strategy, improve your operations, and generally make your company more effective.

Press-release deflation

Confidence is important. Unrealistic self-image is defeating. One of the most difficult things to overcome in business is when you begin to believe your own press. You start to ignore problems, overlook chances to improve, and leave yourself blind to attack.

Look at your competitors closely, and recognize their strengths and what they do better than you; it will help keep you grounded and realistic.

Strategic goad

When you recognize where competitors are better than you, don't settle for being envious or angry. Use their superiority as a goad to improve your own operations and strategy. Learn from what they do better and find ways to match or surpass it. You get a better company and have a healthier emotional outlook as a result.

Innovation partner, unwilling or not

Innovation may be important to companies, but only if you're using it smartly and in the right places. Competitors can actually help. Watch what they're doing for two types of clues. The first is development in areas where your company is weak or hasn't yet considered, so you can begin to catch up. The other is to look at competitors' innovations and find holes or critical points. Develop ways to control those areas, and you can gain great advantage.

Dumping ground for bad customers and employees

This is perhaps my favorite. In business, you're taught to cater to customers, at least in theory. But anyone with more than about 15 minutes of experience in the world of commerce will know that some customers are people you just don't want to do business with. There are the obvious cases of abusive people who are oppressive to you and your employees. There are also the ones who want discounts all the time, demand attention far in excess of the value of business they bring, and otherwise cost more than you can ever make from them. So find subtle ways of encouraging them to leave you and take up with your competitors.

Similarly, there are employees who are not just a poor fit but a detriment to the organization. Send them on their way, hopefully into the employ of your competitors. Bad employees and customers should be a part of your business that you happily share with rivals.