The Infinite Game and Beyond

2020 taught us many things, we can all agree.

From appreciating the little things in life, valuing time with our loved ones, through to ensuring we know how to live within our means, there has been priceless lessons learned from the year when time stood still.

Within business, for those of you who are leaders in your organisations, you will know that learning how to reduce your expenses, thinking “LEAN” has arguably been the highlighted lesson of your 2020.

Staying on the topic of business though, how many of us took a moment to have considered Simon Sinek’s illustration and comparison of Infinite Players versus Finite Players during the year when time seemed like it stood still? (Many of us who experienced severe national lockdowns will know that feeling.)

For certain, 2020 has taught us a lot.

We’ve seen established businesses being hit by the impact of lockdown restrictions that were put in place for our safety, while at the same time there were others that gained massive rewards.

Then, too, there were other players who, if not for their resilience, grit, consistency in methods and practices, pushed through some of the hardest times this generation has ever experienced.

Observing 2020 as it happened, I reflected on the mindset of a particular company I’d worked for in the United Kingdom, Joskos Solutions and the firm I’m in now Pro Talent Specialist Recruitment – both of which are headed by phenomenal leaders in business. And as aforementioned, it is these qualities that resonate: resilience, grit, consistency in methods and practices yet innovative at the same time.

In the opportunely-timed book, (published in 2019), “The Infinite Game”, the acclaimed author of international bestsellers such as “Leaders Eat Last” and “Start With Why”, Simon Sinek, effectively espouses on James Carse’s thoughts on how to play, what I would call, the “long game”.

Some 35 years ago now, James Carse theorised in his 1986 book, “Finite and Infinite Games” the difference for us. Carse states, “Finite games are defined as known players, fixed rules, and an agreed-upon objective. Whereas, an infinite game is defined as known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is not to winthe objective is to keep playing, keep perpetuating the game. (excerpt from Forbes 2019)

From this, we can deduce, as Sinek does in The Infinite Game, that “A finite player seeks power; (while) the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength.” In essence, infinite players play to keep the game moving while finite players play to compete with rivals.

What does all this mean for the ‘game’ of business you and I find ourselves in?

As a keen observer of leaders, businesses, corporate culture and as someone who has found himself in Sales and Marketing teams, I’ve seen and experienced first-hand how Sales teams within an organization, and / or rival businesses position themselves in competition with each other. From marketing strategies, edgy sales tactics and innovative and ever-evolving business models, there is a plethora of approaches that are played out in order to “get ahead” of our competitor/s.

You might say, “Well, these practices are necessary in business. They are absolutely and fundamentally why we are in business, not so? To Win, right??”

Controversially, I would argue, no.

You might say, “I get it then, you’re talking about ‘profit making’ versus ‘profit maximization’, aren’t you?”

No. I’ll let Peter Drucker, the highly esteemed Austrian “business thinker” and management consultant, who in the mid-20th century articulated the purpose of business, argue that point for me.

In his 1954 book, The Practice of Management,(link GoodReads) and much of his writings including his WSJ columns, is found this common theme that “A company’s primary responsibility is to serve its customers. Profit is not the primary goal, but rather an essential condition for the company’s continued existence and sustainability.”

The purpose of this article is not so much, the “what” of business, but my interest for now, is most definitely the “how”.

It is to remind us, as Simon Sinek does, or James Carse before him has done, and many before them may have done, that we are not in competition with our fellow business man or woman, we are in an infinite game, where the only true competition is yourself!

The finite game has a beginning, middle and end. Our individual lives are finite, aren’t they? That is, it will end… but life itself? That appears infinite.

Life will go on. The vital question though is, how will you play using the time you’ve been given?

Playing in an infinite game means you’re not just so focused on winning… being first or taking your opponent out… the focus is being consistent.

I was lucky to be a part of an online seminar (before webinars became a weekly motivational event) where Simon Sinek was the keynote speaker.

Below are the highlights and thoughts I gleaned from that morning session as he outlines the 5 essential practices that Leaders who want to adopt an infinite mindset must follow.

As you read on, consider your business before and beyond 2020.

  1. Finding and advancing your ‘Just’ Cause in business
  • Having a ‘Just Cause’ is your “beyond self” or “bigger goal” and “larger than life” vision.
  • Do you or your company have this ‘Just Cause’…?
  • A Just Cause is not our WhyWhy is our origin story, who we are, our values and beliefs?
  • A Just Cause is our vision of the future.

Here’s some help in putting one together.

  • i) Make it resilient – is it strong enough to withstand cultural, political, technological change?
  • ii) Make it inclusive – are you making it so that others around you put up their hand to say “ I want to be a part of that”?
  • iii) Make it service-oriented – does the primary benefit go to someone other than the contributor?
  1. Build Trusting Teams
  • As a Leader, you are responsible for creating an environment in which people feel that they can be their best selves… without fear of judgment or rejection.
  • How are you creating this environment? What is the ‘language’ you’re using to change the culture?
  • Does your team reflect openness, inclusivity of ideas, knowledge sharing and playful innovation?
  1. Pick a “Worthy” Rival and study them
  • Healthy competition means having a ‘worthy rival’ who is not a traditional competitor.
  • For example, Steve Jobs picked IBM in his early days.
  • Pick a rival and add worth to him/ her. Rivals challenge you to rise higher… someone who by their existence cause you to be better, do better and become better versions of yourself
  • The value your worthy rival will bring to the ‘game’ is to be your pace-setter – you’re in the same perpetual race!
  • Consider that you’re not competing against this person – however you are competing with them!
  • Find that person in your race who inspires, and challenges you to perform as a better version of yourself.
  1. Remain Existentially Flexible and prepare to be agile
  • Your ‘just cause’ must have existential flexibility.
  • What can you sacrifice in the short term to survive long term?
  • Do the right thing for the long term… and do that which advances your ‘just cause”.
  • And lastly… and probably most importanly..
  1. Have Courage
  • It takes courage to play the infinite game.
  • Stick to your just cause, build trusting teams and live a service-oriented life where people will say “This organization is so much better because you were a part of it.”

“The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Their people trust each other and their leaders. They have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, while their competitors fall by the wayside.

Ultimately, they are the ones who lead the rest of us into the future.” Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game