Simon Sinek and The Infinite Game
The other week I was lucky enough to get one of the golden tickets to see Simon Sinek who was in London to promote his new book The Infinite Game.
Unsurprisingly Sinek doesn’t disappoint. He’s a man who lives by his own ethos, seeing what he does as a cause to be fought rather than a job to be done. As with previous books and talks, Sinek moves seamlessly between military history, personal anecdotes and searing insights.
Sinek’s new focus with The Infinite Game is about a change in how we perceive ourselves and the businesses that we lead. Rather than pitting ourselves against a competitor and trying to hit arbitrary targets year on year (financial/growth etc.) and to ‘win’ we should refocus into an infinite mindset. One where we focus on a state that is beyond the transitory success to a fuller picture of a company’s lifetime and even beyond to its legacy. If you are interested in beating the competition you are playing the finite game. The infinite game is slightly more complex to identify, but in Sinek’s framework it consists of five key elements:
1. A just cause. In our terms this means purpose. I read one of the most perfect descriptions of “purpose” the other day: “Purpose is about losing yourself— in something bigger than you.”
It is striving for perfect state ‘which we may never reach’ says Sinek, an ideal of how we think the world should be. He cites the Founding Fathers of the United States and the Declaration of Independence – “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Embodying the pursuit of happiness back to business terms is to galvanise a team around a cause that is greater than the individuals and greater than the company itself.
2. Strong leadership. In order to attempt to achieve the ‘just cause’ you as a leader need to think bigger than yourself and your bottom line. This takes courage, vision and strength. You need to not be buffeted around by the winds of change, the financial ups and downs and the wins and losses.
This is because aiming at a ‘just’ or ‘higher’ cause and knowing your progress towards it isn’t an easy thing to measure the way that a financial and growth metrics can be.. Strive for progression because it’s something that adds to our humanity and our place in the world. As a strong leader of this age, it is important to remember this and base decisions on it.
3. Trusting teams. Sinek says that “trust is maintained when values and beliefs are actively managed. If companies do not actively work to keep clarity, discipline and consistency in balance, then trust starts to break down.”
It goes without saying that a team that supports and trusts each other is a key component of the success of any business. In a highly demanding, competitive business world it’s easy to forget that people aren’t perfect, mistakes are made and things don’t go according to plan. The ability to encourage understanding and support, to use emotional intelligence as a barometer in all situations leads to trusting teams.
If everyone understands and is focused on the ‘just cause’, relating to it on a deep level, then setbacks and mistakes become small bumps on the road. None of us is perfect. But our ability to look beyond business targets to achieve what we think is best for the world unites us in a way that allows us to forgive and smooth out our imperfections.
4. Existential Flexibility. The next element is about having the ability to change and adapt rather than focus doggedly on one solution, product or service. If you aren’t open to changing then it’s easy to become irrelevant.
Sinek cites the rise and fall of Eastman Kodak who wouldn’t allow themselves to adapt to changes in technology. Interestingly if the ‘just cause’ is high enough then how you get there becomes irrelevant because any solution is just an expression or progression towards that ultimate goal.
5. A worthy opponent. When Sinek began talking about this element I was unsure. In my opinion looking at competitors rarely yields an ‘infinite game’ mentality, but rather leads to fear that someone else has something you don’t and that you need. It can lead to you looking over your shoulder rather than trusting in your own path as a business and a leader. However Sinek sees it differently. He sees a ‘worthy opponent’ as someone who propels you forward by showing you where your holes are. Someone that stops you being an echo chamber of the thoughts you think are correct, to help you perceive where you can improve.
Two other things happened at the event that increased my already high respect for Sinek. 90 minutes in (in the middle of Q&A) he said “okay guys, the talk was scheduled for 90 mins, if you want to leave you won’t offend me, but if you want to stay I’ll keep going until they kick us out of here if you want.” I was impressed at his ability to both remove his ego from the situation as well as give more time and attention to those who wanted it for a cause he believed in.
Then, someone asked him what he thought his own failings were. He stood and thought and reeled off a list of things that were imperfect about his own attitudes and working practices that and how those closest to him would help him to be aware of them and address them.
The goal of The Infinite Game is “to achieve an organisation that will outlast us”. Bringing it all back to our own experience, this is certainly the way that I feel about Connected Pictures and The Beautiful Truth. It is about what we stand for as individuals – the values, compassion and empathy we try and foster in ourselves and those around us.
It’s a way of ‘being’ rather than just ‘doing’ — a distinction that seems central to the Infinite Game mentality. It’s these things that I hope outlast us, a way of being, beyond the organisation. Something I hope that our employees, contractors and clients will take with them wherever they go.