One of the most impactful and meaningful business and leadership books to come out in the last few years is “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, it’s highly recommended that you do so.
If you want to build resilience, strength and inspiration in your organization, start by reading The Infinite game. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the highlights and how you can take these tips and put them into action.
Finite and Infinite Games
Simon set out to understand the differences between finite and infinite games. As he did so, he recognized the parallels between organizational leadership and playing one of these games. He recognized that playing the infinite game unlocks a sustainable meaning and purpose that goes far beyond simply winning.
What are Finite Games?
In the literal world of games, chess is an example of a finite game. There are rules: for example, a king can move any direction but only one space; a knight moves in a two space by 3 space “L” shape, and of course several other rules dictating legal movement. To win, you must corner your opponent so that the king can no longer move without being in jeopardy. There is a winner and there is a loser.
Finite Games in Business
Just like chess is a game that you play by certain rules, many people see business as simply a dichotomy of wins and losses. For example, a manager might set a goal: “let’s increase revenue for Q3.” If that’s achieved, you can view it as a win. If it’s not achieved, it’s a loss.
While achieving wins is initially motivating, the constant cycle of simply measuring success by simple revenue goals begins to become far less inspiring over time. Sales levels can’t always be maintained because of course market conditions can sometimes be beyond our control, so life becomes an endless series of measuring our performance by a number alone.
It’s no secret that having a deep sense of purpose is one of the keys to achieving meaning in any aspect of life. Consider the success of “The Purpose Driven Life” by Pastor Rick Warren. People of all walks of life were awakened to the fact that we need meaning in both life and business to stay motivated and stay fulfilled.
A great example of an infinite game is “playing Legos.” When kids or even adults play Legos, at the core is the purpose of stretching creativity and engineering to create fascinating structures. It’s driven by the deep and meaningful purposes of exploring aesthetics and ingenuity. There’s never really an end: you can simply make something amazing, then break it apart and come up with something new.
Infinite Games in Business
Of course, business isn’t about literally breaking things and starting over, but the metaphor can hold true. Often, traditional ways of doing things are found to be stale. Successful organizations find a new sense of meaning in change, reaching new heights by making core changes.
Achieving the infinite mindset:
Simon lays out several practices to follow that can lead managers to play the infinite game and achieve the sustainable inspiration and motivation that propels success.
The first practice that Sinek lays out is “Just Cause.” He describes this as an ideal that’s so appealing that people are willing to sacrifice to achieve it. Think of some amazing examples: Steve Jobs set out to revolutionize personal computers. Elon Musk sought to build high performance fully electric cars that people would aspire to buy. AirBnB wanted to change the way people vacation from simply staying in a hotel room to really experiencing the way locals live.
In all these examples, you can see how there’s not simply an end goal of “selling more than last year,” but to really build a product with a unique identity. The end goal is an ongoing cause, not just a tangible result. Apple, Tesla and AirBnB continue to innovate, because there really is no specific end to any of these pursuits.
To find your just cause, it’s useful to explore the “why” of what you are doing. For example, Jobs might have asked, “Why am I doing this? To simply sell more computers? Or are we here to really change the way people interact with technology?
Functioning as a team is about more than simply working alongside one another. Sinek discusses how important it is to build trust amongst the team. This means encouraging taking risks, and supporting each other when mistakes are made and risks don’t pay off. Building trust means sharing and supporting one another on a deep level regardless of results.
Have Worthy Rivals
Simon discusses how recognizing competitors as worthy rivals can help reveal your weaknesses and inspire further growth. You might recognize elements of your just cause in a competitor, and see how they may perhaps be achieving them differently or more effectively. The aim isn’t to copy or mimic, but to become aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.
Being willing to make sweeping, core changes to your organization is central to achieving your just cause. The antithesis is “playing it safe.” Sinek lays out the example of Walt Disney. Disney took an enormous personal risk by developing Disneyland, which was a theme park on a scale never before seen.
It is called “existential” flexibility because it requires you to not just be willing to make small tweaks, but truly core changes to your business. Thinking back to Walt Disney, he had the courage to add an entire line of business: the theme park. Later Disney continued to inspire both employees and customers by adding a cruise line, experiential travel and more.
Courage to Lead
Existential flexibility takes courage. This is largely because the future is unknown. Walt Disney simply did not know if Disneyland would be successful. He and his team studied the concept then planned it out as best they could, but in the end, he had to have the courage to make the leap.
You should ask yourself, if he had played it safe; if he had simply been content to produce animated movies, would they have been as successful as they are today? Would they even still exist?
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