One of my favorite business “mind” leaders is Simon Sinek. Sinek has written many best-selling books and is truly gifted at expanding the mind and elevating perspectives. (If you have not discovered “Start With Why” I highly recommend starting there.)
His latest book “The Infinite Game” explores game theory and how it relates to business.
I’m a fan of Sinek because he’s an unruly lad like me – always looking for ways to challenge the status quo and upend prevailing paradigms that hold us back in our daily lives.
His teaching applies to business and life.
Here’s an excerpt from “The Infinite Game” book page on his website that provides a nice high-level overview of what’s inside the book:
“In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.
In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint.“
Interesting thought and contemplation here.
I’d say most businesses and business leaders are playing the finite game within an infinite game – with the purpose of winning, however, they define it over and over again.
But it’s a myopic way of thinking.
Because everything in life is “in process” – things like “your health” can’t be “won” – it’s not an event but a continuum where the goal is to continue to play the game of being in “good health” as long as you can.
Infinite games have infinite possibilities.
There are no borders, walls, or limitations.
In the infinite game, the only true competitor you have is “you” yourself. The goal is not to beat your competition, it is to outlast your competition.
In his book, Sinek provides “The 5 Practices” for any leader who wants to adopt an infinite mindset as follows:
1. Just Cause
Organizations have to offer their employees a “cause” so “just” that they would be willing to sacrifice their own interests to advance it.
2. Trusting Teams
To create an environment where people can work at their natural best businesses have to ensure the psychological safety of their teams.
3. Worthy Rival
A worthy rival is another player in the game that’s worthy of comparison. They reveal our weaknesses that are opportunities to improve ourselves.
4. Existential Flexibility
If you’re not willing to blow up your own company, the market will do it for you. You must have the capacity to make a profound strategic shift in order to advance your “cause.”
5. Courage to Lead
It’s extremely hard to keep a “just cause” in mind as the guiding principle, especially if you have to make decisions that hurt in the short term.
As a leader, having an infinite mindset is not about ego but knowing that you are part of something bigger and constantly searching for ways to grow and be better every day.
If on the other hand, you choose to play a finite game, it’s all about the short-term and “what’s in it for me NOW” – a race to the bottom.
It reminds me of when I became the newly minted CEO of a company with 1000 employees doing over $250M in annual sales and the delusional enthusiasm I had in creating a vision for a better future…
…when the reality was mandated that the focus was to be on making the monthly – quarterly – annual numbers and keeping our bank covenants alive and well.
My strategic visions of grandeur were constantly at odds with the prevailing short-term profit tactics and numbers narrative.
Thankfully, I escaped the finite corporate asylum back in 2008 and have been on my own since.
For me, having an infinite mindset is key – no rules, no limitations, only possibilities.
Said differently, it’s about having an “abundance” mindset versus a “scarcity” mindset.
One will set you free, the other will have you running on a hamster wheel with no clear exit.
But it all comes down to mindset.
Game theory is a powerful “narcotic” that has vast implications in business, economics, politics – just about everything.
And finally – maybe it’s time to explore a counterintuitive approach to game theory…
…instead of trying to predict the way that two or parties will act in a given situation with useless scenarios and analysis – just do the right thing.
Be the solution to someone’s bigger problem.
Find ways to leverage the value you create in the market.
And focus on getting better at it each and every day.
Find joy in the process…
…and refuse to play finite games.