The Infinite Game
Portfolio/Penguin (October 2019)
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” African proverb
I have read all of Simon Sinek’s previous books and reviewed most of them. His latest may well prove to be the most valuable published thus far because it can have the widest and deepest impact. He is a purpose-driven idealist with what Hemingway once characterized as a “shock-proof, built-in crap detector. I embrace his heart-felt affirmations of what is possible.
For example, “It is well within our power to build a world in which the vast majority of us wake up every morning inspired, feel safe at work, and return home at the end of the day.
As Sinek explains, he wrote this book “to rally those who are ready to challenge the status quo and replace it with a reality that is vastly more conducive to our deep-seated human need to feel safe, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and to provide for ourselves and our families. A reality that works for our best interests as individuals, as companies, as communities and as a species.”
Note Sinek’s inclusive use of direct address, with references to “our” and “ourselves.” This book really is a call to arms, urging those who read it to become engaged in the Infinite Game.
As he explains, “Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed upon objective that, when reached, ends the game…Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules.” They have infinite time lines. “And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as ‘winning’ an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.”
There are three factors people must always consider when deciding how to get engaged:
1. They can’t choose whether a particular game is finite or infinite.
2. They do get to choose whether or not they want to join a game.
3. Having selected a game, they can choose to play with a finite or infinite mindset.
All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. That said, the fact remains that C-level executives — with rare exception — determine whether or not their workforce plays a finite or infinite game.
Sinek suggests that the true value of an organization is best measured “by the desire others have to contribute to the organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.” This was precisely the attitude I encountered when I was once retained by W. L. Gore to help improve internal communications. Everyone I encountered thought, talked, and behaved in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns. Sinek: “‘What’s best for me?’ is finite thinking. ‘What’s best for us’ is infinite thinking.”
It is no coincidence that companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value.
Guess which mindset drives these workforces — top to bottom? And guess which mindset maximizes active and positive engagement as well as personal growth and professional development? And finally, guess which mindset attracts and then retains the best talent?