“Leaders are not responsible for the results, leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. And the best way to drive performance in an organization is to create an environment in which information can flow freely, mistakes can be highlighted and help can be offered and received.”
― The Infinite Game
The Infinite Game is a New York Times best-selling book by Simon Sinek published in 2019.
The book starts with comparing two mindsets for playing any game: Finite Game and the Infinite Game. This concept was heavily inspired by James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games. Simon Sinek explains that in finite games (e.g. chess and football) are played for the purpose of ending play consistent with a specific rules. There are set rules, and every game has a beginning, middle and end, and a final winner is distinctly recognizable. Infinite games (e.g. business and politics) are played for the purpose of continuing play rather than to win. Sinek claims that leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, aligned with infinite play, will build stronger, more innovative, inspiring, resilient organizations, though these benefits may accrue over larger timescales than benefits associated with a finite mindset.
The Infinite Game proceeds to tell us about different real life examples of companies who play the infinite game and who play the finite game. One of these examples includes Apple & Microsoft in early 2000s. The author is meeting with Apple executive and wants to share his impression on Microsoft’s Zune MP3 player and he tells Apple executive how he thinks it is much better than the iPod Touch. Apple Executive replies in an unfazed manner: “I have no doubt”. Apple was never attempting to beat Microsoft, Apple was trying to outbeat themselves, whereas Microsoft only cared about the numbers and how big was their market share. And that sadly seems to be the thinking today as well.
Personally, I still think that 5th Gen iPod Classic and star-warsy whirring noises it made with its hard drive was the best piece of tech I ever owned. Steve Jobs was infinite minded leader who changed the world with Apple and Pixar. I can’t say I remember much of what Microsoft during that period.
Next example I want to share involves moral fading in the company that plays the finite game. During a five year period between 2011 and 2016, Wells Fargo opened nearly three and a half million fake bank accounts on behalf of their customers. Many customers became alarmed by the sudden rise in fees. This was a result of employees being asked to hit numbers that were unrealistic. The employees who opened fake accounts were often rewarded with bonuses and promoted. Interestingly enough, the moral fading was flagged to the company leadership ten years prior of the scandal but no one cared.
The book also highlights companies that are playing the infinite game and this is what has saved the companies from the brink of bankruptcy.
Finally Simon Sinek summarizes the characteristics of the infinite game as follows:
1. Advance a Just Cause
2. Build Trusting Teams
3. Study Your Worthy Rivals
4. Prepare for Existential Flexibility
5. Show the Courage to Lead
“The ability to succeed is not what makes someone a leader. Exhibiting the qualities of leadership is what makes someone an effective leader. Qualities like honesty, integrity, courage, resiliency, perseverance, judgment and decisiveness,”
― The Infinite Game
I have previously read Start With Why from this author back in 2020. Although I liked the book and I love watching Sinek on Youtube, everything that he was saying seemed quite obvious. I think until this point in my life, I have been fortunate enough to work under managers and leaders who cared about employees and there always seemed to be a bigger goal. Unfortunately, this year I worked with truly finite minded managers. And I realized how wildly different approaches my previous leaders and these managers had. One of my seniors stated before me: “I don’t care about individuals or feelings, for me numbers are important” and “look at our financial results, numbers don’t lie” and at the same time, I felt exhausted and broken and I did not really know why. I honestly did not think there were people like this out there and many seemed to praise the culture of this organization. Some of my colleagues had noticed the same but stated it is not what they thought it would be either but that they are waiting it out due to pension or because apparently this is what you can expect from most organizations. After, I wanted to remind myself of what is beautiful and good in business and went on to read The Infinite Game.
Sometimes it makes me so sad when people in leadership positions do not read and this year has been one to highlight it. Fortunately, I am in a better place now and hopefully will work for a company who embraces the importance of playing an infinite game.
“There is a difference between a group of people who work together and a group of people who trust each other.” ― The Infinite Game
How-To Read The Infinite Game
1. I think that this should be required reading for all leaders and managers. If you are one, please read anything and everything by Simon Sinek.
2. While the book is focused on infinite and finite mindsets, I think it also has some very good thoughts on capitalism. Capitalism is the only system that truly works but sadly we are abusing it at the moment.
3. I enjoyed the Audbile edition of the book and would warmly recommend to listen to The Infinite Game there.
What are you reading? Have you read this? Thoughts?
5 thoughts on “The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek”
I too have known both sorts of managers. In my experience the “caring” sort are being increasingly pushed out – and that was 20 years ago when I left that particular rat race.
I would have welcomed a book like “The Infinite Game” back then. Maybe I’ll read it now anyway.
Abusing capitalism? – Absolutely so!
20 years later we are still tackling the same problems :D Though I think that some organizations are just more forward thinking than others. I think at some point I might pursue something different just to be done with the rat race.
I don’t believe in capitalism but I believe even less so in every other economic system.
Very nice post, very illuminating 😀thanks