I recently read Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game, and I find many of the concepts particularly relevant to our current situation. All individuals and organizations have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in some way, and the uncertainty of the situation is particularly troubling. Restrictions are gradually being lifted where I live, and that seems to create hope for many people that better times are in sight. However, there is still anxiety about the chance of a second wave and the accompanying implications on our health and economy.
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In The Infinite Game, Sinek describes finite and infinite games. We are all very familiar and comfortable with finite games, because they have defined rules, players, etc. Athletic events are examples of finite games, and we know what it takes to win one. In business, quarterly or annual financial benchmarks are examples of finite games. Businesses set a goal, and we know whether we “won” or “lost” based on whether we met the metric.
In contrast, “the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game” in infinite games (p. 4). I think the infinite game is about knowing who we are at our individual and organizational best rather than looking for finite measures. It is a long term perspective that focuses on success now and especially in the future. Sinek writes:
“In the Infinite Game, the true value of an organization 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 organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure.” (p. 9)
Many organizations are losing the finite game as we speak. They are missing monthly and quarterly quotas, decreased sales, lower productivity, laying off employees, etc. It is easy to succumb to finite thinking and get discouraged. During difficult times, leaders often have a short term perspective.
During the challenges brought by the pandemic, I encourage leaders to think about the infinite game. How might we use this time to ensure our organizations are better in the long run? At some point, we know scientists will find a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. It’s only a question of when.
During the challenging weeks and months ahead, how are leaders building teams and employees focused on their “organization’s ability to keep succeeding?” (p. 9). This is a time when leaders can focus on improving company culture, expanding technology capabilities, developing innovative products and services, training their team, and other areas that contribute to the infinite game. While there are many things out of the control of leaders right now, leaders can focus on those areas they have influence over.
Here are some questions worth reflecting on and discussing:
- Is our organization focused on the finite game or the infinite game?
- How might we build a stronger company culture where everyone is focused on the “organization’s ability to keep succeeding?” (p. 9)?
- What can we do now to make our organization and people better in the long run?
- How might we view this time as an opportunity to act on items that we have previously put off?
The finite mindset focuses on just surviving the pandemic until life gets back to normal. The infinite mindset focuses on a path that will allow the organization to thrive now and in the future. Finite does not inspire. An infinite mindset inspires people to dream big and be part of something bigger than themselves.
We help clients focus on an infinite mindset through planning processes, leadership coaching, and building organizational culture.
Reference: Sinek, S. (2019). The Infinite Game.