For most people, life is all about winning or losing, successes or failures. This finite way of thinking may drive short-term results, but tends to backfire in the long run. In this book, Simon Sinek urges readers to adopt a different mindset—to play the Infinite Game, where it’s possible to create a new reality that concurrently serves individuals, organizations, communities, and the entire humanity. In this free version of The Infinite Game summary, you’ll learn the difference between Finite Game and Infinite Game, and how to play the Infinite Game with 5 key practices.
Do also check out our complete summary bundle in pdf/mp3 infographic, text and audio formats!
What is the Infinite Game?
According to Professor James Carse—the author of “Finite & Infinite Game”—there are 2 types of games in life: Finite and Infinite Games.
The main goal of a finite game is to win. Such games have:
- Known players;
- Fixed timelines with a beginning, middle and an end;
- A clear winner at the end;
- Pre-agreed objectives/conditions; and
- Fixed rules with penalties if the rules are broken.
The main goal of an infinite game is to keep the game going. Such games have:
- Known and unknown players that come and go;
- Infinite time horizons with no fixed end-point;
- No winner (just an ongoing effort to improve the game);
- No fixed objectives/conditions; and
- No restrictions on what players can/cannot do (though there may be some broad parameters or norms).
Finite games end when the time is up, and players move on to other games. On the other hand, infinite games continue in perpetuity, with players entering the game then exiting when they exhaust their will or resources.
Most aspects of life involve infinite games. For instance, there’s no such thing as a “winner” when it comes to marriage, friendship, or even life itself. Getting a degree is finite, but education is infinite. You can “win” other candidates to secure a specific job, but you cannot “win” a career.
Business is an Infinite Game
Business is an also infinite game with known/unknown players, new players entering and exiting the market constantly, no fixed rules, nor a clear beginning/end. Organizations that adopt an infinite mindset—to focus on long-term goals, continuous improvement, and making a positive impact—are more likely to succeed in the long run.
Unfortunately, many businesses today adopt a transactional or finite mindset. This is manifested in mass layoffs, unethical business practices, and a myopic focus on short-term profits. It’s no wonder that the average lifespan for S&P 500 companies has decreased by 70%, from 61 years to 18 years, since the 1950s.
Sinek calls for a shift from a finite mindset to an infinite mindset:
Playing the Infinite Game: 5 Key Practices
Finite games are more tempting because they deliver fast, concrete results. However, these are often temporary. Infinite games require consistent effort, but they’re much more rewarding since they generate better results in the long run for all parties involved. They also fulfill our fundamental human need to feel safe, provide for those we care for, and contribute to something bigger than ourselves.
Leaders with an infinite mindset adopt 5 essential practices that reinforce one another. Each practice can stand on its own, though they’re the most effective when all 5 elements are present. Here’s a quick overview. Do check out our full 16-page version of The Infinite Game summary for specific strategies and details for each practice!
Practice #1: Champion a Just Cause
Infinite-minded leaders are driven by a Just Cause, i.e. a compelling vision of a future that doesn’t yet exist. This drives all their decisions.
A Just Cause must fulfill 5 criteria: standing for something meaningful, inclusive, service-oriented, resilient, and idealistic.
Leaders must serve as the custodians of the Cause to keep their teams on-track. Unfortunately, organizations often lose sight of their purpose over time as leadership changes hands. Sinek proposes solutions such as: preserving a Just Cause in writing, selecting the right leaders who can sustain the right mindset and values, and changing the top role to Chief Vision Officer (CVO) instead of CEO, and addressing both “external resources” and “internal will”.
He also suggests that the current shortsightedness in business is rooted in our wider mindset toward Capitalism. Today, our approach to business is strongly influence by Milton Friedman’s theory that businesses should maximize shareholder value. Sinek argues that this has led to an unhealthy focus on short-term profits and stock prices, at the expense of companies’ long-term health. He urges readers to embrace the original version of capitalism by Adam Smith 200 years ago, with a call for businesses to:
• Focus on serving a greater purpose that gives people a sense of belonging and meaning;
• Operate in a way that protects people, including their workers, consumers and the environment; and
• Generate enough profit so they have resources to keep serving the 2 responsibilities above.
Do check out our complete summary for more details on the 5 Just Cause criteria and each of the concepts/strategies above, along with examples on what a Just Cause is and isn’t.
Practice #2: Build Trusting Teams
Having a Just Cause isn’t enough. You must also align people and decisions with the Cause. Build trusting teams where people share the same purpose/beliefs, and can collaborate and innovate freely.
Specifically, high-performing teams require 2 ingredients: performance (which is about technical competence) and trust (which is about personal character–the ability to trust others and be trusted). Infinite-minded leaders develop both elements in their teams by: creating a safe environment where people can voice their fears/concerns and address issues, encouraging actions that build trust and optimal performance, and developing their team members.
In our full summary of The Infinite Game, we’ll elaborate on the dangers of focusing too much on performance, and how an infinite mindset helps to sustain values/ethics and prevent ethical fading.
Practice #3: Learn from Worthy Rivals
A Worthy Rival is an infinite-minded player who’s worth learning from. It can be inside or outside your industry, and must be superior than you in some way(s). Find others who’re better than you, and spur yourself to keep improving.
Practice #4: Display Existential Flexibility
If your organization’s direction no longer aligns with its Just Cause, be willing to make drastic, fundamental shifts to get back on a right path.
Infinite-minded leaders are always on the lookout for ideas beyond their industry, to reimagine new ways to advance the Just Cause. When they believe that the current path is not longer the best way to advance their Cause, they’re willing to pivot to a better path, even if it risks the very existence of the organization. They embrace the uncertainty and newness of the change, and use it to inspire people and rejuvenate their passions.
Practice #5: Lead with Courage
To play the infinite game, you need courage not only take risky actions, but also to admit to mistakes, shift your perspective, and stay true to your Just Cause in face of internal and external pressures. Infinite-minded leaders have the courage to do what’s right instead of what’s easy.
Want to broaden your perspectives and possibilities? Check out more powerful ideas in our Reinventing Organizations summary and The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership summary.
Getting The Most from “The Infinite Game”
Each of us has a finite lifespan, but we can choose to play an infinite game and leave a lasting impact. If you’re ready to make the shift to an infinite mindset, do check out our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 16-page text summary, and a 30-minute audio summary.
In the book, Simon Sinek shares numerous real-world examples to help us understand the differences in infinite and finite mindsets, and understand their implications and repercussions at an individual and organizational level. You can purchase the book here or visit simonsinek.com for more information.
About the Author of The Infinite Game
The Infinite Game was written by Simon O. Sinek—an American author, speaker, and consultant who writes on leadership and management. Sinek was born in the United Kingdom and lived in several countries before settling in the United States. He received a BA in cultural anthropology from Brandeis University. Sinek is also an instructor of strategic communications at Columbia University, an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, and the founder of Optimism Press.
The Infinite Game Quotes
“Playing the Infinite Game is not a checklist, it’s a mindset.”
“It is well within our power to build a world in which the vast majority of us wake up every single morning inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.”
“The problem isn’t how skilled an executive is when they take over as CEO. The problem is whether they have the right mindset for the job they are given.”
“Words matter. They give direction and meaning to things.”
“When companies make their people feel like they matter, the people come together in a way that money simply cannot buy.”
“To build high-performing teams, trust comes before the performance.”
“Leaders are not responsible for the results, leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.”
“Once we are born, we are players. The only choice we get is if we want to play with a finite mindset or an infinite mindset.”
Achieve infinitely better outcomes with an infinite mindset!
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