The Infinite Game

By Simon Sinek



Originally published

Oct 15, 2018


Game Theory


Dec 24, 2021


Dec 27, 2021

PurchaseExternal link
A business-oriented riff on Finite and Infinite Games by Professor James P. Carse
Some critiques from online: why make this so binary? In order to have the right to play the infinite game, you need to win finite games. Finite games are votes. Indicators.
Prose is longer than it needs to be. Wide margins, large text. Intros to paragraphs try to build up a sense of mystery/suspense kind of like a BuzzFeed thread. Some of the content in this book is great, I wish there was not this fluff.
Overgeneralizes many topics. Lack of caution and nuance to topics such as the Vietnam war, Apple vs. IBM, etc. I guess this is typical of management books but it’s hard to feel like the research is genuine and useful in forward-looking scenarios versus just glazed over history (hindsight is 2020).
Anything can be thought of as a game
“Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game.” (3)
“Infinite games have infinite time horizons. 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.” (4)
As a result, it’s more about rates of change than relative positioning. It’s about systems and trends. Momentum. Loops.
This is a useful framing for work and life
“No matter how successful we are in life, when we die, none of us will be declared the winner of life.” (4)
“There is no such thing as coming in first in marriage or friendship, for example. Though school may be finite, there is no such thing as winning education.” (4)
And, the game of learning / education continues until you die
This requires holding a long-term view
“ to build organizations that are strong enough and healthy enough to stay in the game for many generations to come.” (7)
“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.” (9)
Reflecting on JFK’s proclamation to go to the moon: “Though moon shots are inspiring for a time, that inspiration comes with an expiration date. Moon shots are bold, inspiring finite goals within the Infinite Game, not instead of the Infinite Game.” (54) America’s mission and growth of course continues after we would reach the moon.
Playing in the infinite game for a long time requires a “Just Cause”: “a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist” (32-33)
A-la Alex Danco “world building”, “Our Just Cause is the ideal vision of the house we hope to build.” (34)
Your cause needs to be framed additively, “Being for or being against is a subtle but profound difference” (38)
You cannot infinitely be against something (eventually the fire will run out), you can infinitely be for something
Leadership in the infinite game
“When we lead with a finite mindset in an infinite game, it leads to all kinds of problems, the most common of which include the decline of trust, cooperation and innovation.” (5)
“Despite the fact that companies are playing in a game that cannot be won, too many business leaders keep playing as if they can.” (6)
“as the ‘CEO’ of the civil rights movement, Dr. King was not responsible for making the plan. He was responsible for the dream and making sure those responsible for the plans were working to advance the dream.” (65)
“stop seeing the CEO as number one and the CFO or COO as number two and start thinking of them as vital partners in a common cause.” (67)
“Steve Ballmer, John Sculley and Kevin Rollins all thrived when they were working alongside their more infinite-minded partners.” (67)
The operator verses the world-builder; one can be both (Tim Cook, perhaps?) but often at big companies it is good for the groups to have separate leaders
Cultures > features
“Carse also expects the infinite player to play for the good of the game...Where a finite-minded player makes products they thing they can sell to people, the infinite-minded player makes products that people want to buy. The former is primarily focused on how the sale of those products benefits the company; the latter is primarily focused on how the products benefit those who buy them.” (9-10)
Grow the pie, win repeatedly, unlock CLV
“When Microsoft launched the Zune, there was no grand vision that the product was helping to advance. They weren’t thinking about what possibilities the future might hold. It was just a competition for market share and money.” (16)
“...excessive focus on the urgent at the expense of the important.” (17); “Microsoft found themselves in a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.” (18)
Bill Gates’s original infinite vision: ‘To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.’” (19)
I often meet senior executives who seem to suffer from a kind of ‘finite exhaustion.’ Because they did well and were paid well for hitting each goal set for them, they kept repeating that pattern...Racking up finite wins does not lead to something more infinite.” (53)
TV maker Vizio has the mission to “deliver high performance, smarter products with the latest innovations at a significant savings that we can pass along to our consumers”. This is a set of products and services. It is not a world.
Sinek: “I take them at their word that they do all those things But do those words really inspire peopled to want to offer their blood, sweat or tears? When you read those words are you inspired to rush to apply for a job there? Few if any of us get goose bumps or feel a visceral calling to be a part of something like that. Such statements offer us neither a cause to which we would commit ourselves nor a sense of what it’s all for, both of which are essential in the Infinite Game.” (37)
If we articulate our Cause in terms of our products, then our organization’s entire existence is conditional on the relevance of those products.” (45)
A strong culture makes it easier to retain employees and customers
On Sweetgreen, “Though many of us may buy their salads just because we like their salads, those who are devoted to locally sourced food and want to support local farms will be drawn to work for and become the most loyal supporters of Sweetgreen. They will make sacrifices, like going out of their way or paying a premium, to buy from Sweetgreen.” (41)
“’Like’ is rational. We like the people we work with. We like the challenge. We like the work. But ‘love,’ love is emotional. Love is something harder to quantify.” (92)
“customers will never live a company until the employees love the company first” (126)
Think Chik-fil-A, Sweetgreen, Patagonia, Disney, etc.
“Danny Meyer, the famed restauranteur and founder of Shake Shack shared his bias when he said his business is 49 percent technical and 51 percent emotional (the restauranteur’s take on will and resources).” (96)
“Especially in retail, which suffers from such high turnover rates, the common logic is, ‘Why invest in people who aren’t gonna stick around?’ This is a one-dimensional and finite view of the way business works. Focusing on the money they can save by not investing in their people, too many finite-minded leaders overlook the additional costs they actually incur when they don’t.” (97)
“Very often, finite-minded leaders believe the source of will is externally motivated—pay packages, bonuses, perks or internal competition. If only that’s all it took to inspire a human being...But money can’t buy true will. The difference between and organization where people are extrinsically rewarded to give their all and one where people are intrinsically motivated to do so is the difference between and organization filled with mercenaries versus one filled with zealots.” (101)
“In a group of people who simply work together, relationships are mostly transactional, based on mutual desire to get things done...For the feelings of trust to develop, we have to feel safe expressing ourselves first. We have to feel safe being vulnerable.” (106)
Professor Brene Brown (Univ. of Houston): “Trust and vulnerability grow together, and to betray one is to destroy both.” (106)
Performance is about technical competence. How good someone is at their job. Do they have grit? Can they remain cool under pressure? Trust is about character. Their humility and sense of personal accountability. How much they have the backs of their teammates when not in combat. And whether they are a positive influence on other team members.” (110) In the context of battle, this is “the difference between physical safety and psychological safety.” (110)
“Pitting their people against each other might seem like a good idea to finite-minded leaders like Welch. But it’s only good for now. Eventually, it can lead to behaviors that actually undermine trust, things like hoarding information instead of sharing it, stealing credit instead of giving it...” (111)
“Conversely, if we ask team members who they trust more than anyone else on the team, who is always there for them when the chips are down, they will likely also all point to the same person.” (112)
When the team is in water, are you a raft or are you a weight? All your teammates will say the same
“Fear can push us to choose the best finite option at the risk of doing infinite damage.” (119)
Do not interrupt compounding. Do not risk stepping out of the game.
Castle Rock Police Department (CRPD): “officers’ evaluations focus on the problems they are solving and the impact they are making in the lives of people at the department and in the community. The traditional metrics are included, but they aren’t the focus any more.” (122)

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