What is it?
Most games are finite. Spectators of the 11 hour Wimbledon Isner-Mahut match may have thought it would last forever, but even that came to an end. Finite games have fixed rules, a set number of players, an end point and a clear winner.
But some games are volatile and unpredictable, with no distinguished winners or losers. There are no set players in politics and business disruptors write their own rules. Politics, business and life itself are not games that can be won or lost, yet so many people play them that way.
“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite; the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”– James P Carse
In 1986, NYU history and literature of religion professor James P. Carse wrote Finite and Infinite Games, exploring the difference between games that end and games that go on forever.
How does this apply to business?
In 2018, author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek published The Infinite Game, putting these ideas into a business context.
When leaders have an infinite mindset, success is not quantified by short-term financial goals–“arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames”, but longer-term visions: a desire to contribute to an organisation, “not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.”
“In the Infinite Game, the true value of an organisation cannot be measured by the success it has achieved based on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organisation’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.”– Simon Sinek
This results in different styles of leadership. “Where finite-minded organisations view people as a cost to be managed, infinite-minded organisations see employees as human beings whose value cannot be calculated as if they were a piece of machinery,” Sinek explains.
This means investing in each employee in an organisation, providing them with meaningful work and measuring their success by more than short-term, finite metrics.
“Investing in human beings goes beyond paying them well and offering them a great place to work. It also means treating them like human beings. Understanding that they, like all people, have ambitions and fears, ideas and opinions and ultimately want to feel like they matter.”– Simon Sinek
Why is it important?
According to Sinek, when leaders have a finite mindset, they are more likely to have unmotivated employees, less cooperation, and dishonest and unethical business practices. On the other hand, organisations with an infinite mindset tend to have vastly higher levels of trust, cooperation and innovation.
This ultimately leads to company success. As Sinek puts it: “We tend to see the world in terms of success and failures, winners and losers. This default win-lose mode can sometimes work for the short term; however, as a strategy for how companies and organisations operate, it can have grave consequences over the longer term.”
“We tend to see the world in terms of success and failures, winners and losers. This default win-lose mode can sometimes work for the short term; however, as a strategy for how companies and organisations operate, it can have grave consequences over the longer term.”– Simon Sinek
How can companies adopt an infinite mindset?
Sinek lays out five steps for a company to adopt an infinite mindset.
- Pursue a just cause. Sinek defines a just cause as “an ideal vision” that every aspect of the company is committed to.
- Foster trusting teams. According to Sinek, 99% of the time that employees don’t meet performance standards, is because leadership hasn’t created a culture of trust–a space where “someone can come to work and feel safe raising their hand and saying I made a mistake… without fear of being put on the short list for layoffs.”
- Admire worthy rivals. Sinek makes the case that trying to beat competitors is a waste of resources; leaders should admire rivals and look for ways they can improve themselves.
- Practice existential flexibility. This means willingness to change strategic direction, even at the expense of a short-term loss. “If you have a just cause and trusting teams,” Sinek argues, “people will understand why you’re doing it and agree.”
- Courage to lead. Being able to stand apart from the herd is essential. Change often causes friction, and infinite leadership must be able to see beyond the adversity to the benefits of change in the long term.
- The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek (2018)
- Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team – Simon Sinek (2017)
- Simon Sinek and The Infinite Game – The Beautiful Truth
- Simon Sinek and The Golden Circle – The Beautiful Truth
- How great leaders inspire action – TED
- Brené with Simon Sinek on Developing an Infinite Mindset – Dare to Lead with Brené Brown
- Finite and Infinite Games – James Carse (1986)
“If we can learn to embrace infinite mindsets…At the end of our life we’ll look back and say I was a part of something bigger than myself.”– Simon Sinek