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The Infinite Game argues that business is not a competition but an infinite journey, and that to do well in it, leaders must advance a “Just Cause,” build trusting teams, learn from their “Worthy Rivals,” and practice existential flexibility.
"Our lives are finite, but life is infinite. We are the finite players in the infinite dame of life. We come and go, we're born and we die, and life still continues with or without us."
At one point, both Apple and Microsoft invited Simon Sinek to present at their education summits within the span of a few months. Comparing the two experiences after the fact, Sinek noticed something:
“At the Microsoft event, the majority of the presenters devoted a good portion of their presentations to talking about how they were going to beat Apple. At the Apple event, 100% of the presenters spent 100% of their time talking about how Apple was trying to help teachers teach and help students learn.”
This marks the difference between a company that thinks with a finite mindset and one that thinks with an infinite mindset. The concept stems from a 1984 book by James Carse, called Finite and Infinite Games . In The Infinite Game , Sinek applies the concept to business.
Infinite-minded companies last longer, achieve more, and are generally kinder and more beneficial to the world. Maintaining this mindset requires following a continuous, five-step cycle, Sinek says:
Soccer is an excellent example of a finite game. There’s a limited field on which the game is played. The rules are clear. There’s a set time for when the game begins and ends, a mechanism for keeping score, and a list of winners and losers after the fact.
Naturally, finite games inspire short-term thinking. You have to win immediately , and the only way to win is to kick your opponent out of the game. Elections, casting shows, and all sporting competitions are finite games.
Business, relationships, and education, on the other hand, are infinite games. There’s no defined beginning or end. New players join all the time. Others leave. There are rules, but they too constantly change. What the players do once they’re on the field is largely up to them, and the goal is to stay in the game rather than win.
The world is full of both finite and infinite games, and problems occur when we play infinite games with a finite mindset.
When the FIFA gave the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, for example, they did so primarily because they paid a lot of money . They also reneged on fan and player privileges, like alcohol in stadiums and the LGBT armband . Fans slammed the FIFA for its short-term thinking. They boycotted ticket sales, jerseys, and even stopped watching altogether.
Business is an infinite game. If you play it, think long-term , cooperate with others, and try to keep playing rather than win.
Sinek quotes a study that suggests S&P 500 company lifespans have declined by over 40 years, from 61 on average to 18. Why? Fewer and fewer companies try to advance a “Just Cause.”
“A Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist ; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision,” Sinek says. It must have the following five traits:
3. It must be service-oriented . The primary beneficiary of the cause must be someone other than the business itself.
4. It must be resilient . Will you build trains instead of cars if that’s where the world is headed? You should!
5. It must be idealistic . Your vision should provide inspiration for generations, not be something you can get done by next week.
For years, Sinek had a silent competition going with Adam Grant, author of Originals . When he finally met him at an event, Sinek realized: “The way I saw him had nothing to do with him. It had to do with me.”
Instead of trying to beat his “competitor,” Sinek finally appreciated Grant as a “Worthy Rival:” Someone whose strengths and skills he could learn from.
Most of the time in business, the pie is big enough for everyone, and it’s better to focus on growing the pie altogether than to try and snag pieces off your neighbor’s plate.
Analyzing a worthy rival will make you better at what you do. It’ll also help you gain clarity on why you’re doing it. Embrace competitors as co-players, and you’ll slowly adopt a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity, which will get you to focus on your Just Cause more so than whoever’s about to beat you.
Having read about half of its chapters, I’m pretty sure this isn’t Simon Sinek’s best book but still well worth your time. For the basics of finite and infinite games, read Finite and Infinite Games . To learn more about your Just Cause, Worthy Rivals, and the other concepts, pick up this inspiring and thought-provoking book. Even if you end up skipping the more common-sense chapters, this will be a few hours well-spent.
The 17-year-old ambitious athlete who throws a tantrum every time he loses a game, the 42-year-old CFO who sometimes fails to see the big picture for all the numbers, and anyone who wants to build a business that can survive for 100 years or more.
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