Our CEO Owen Franklin recently read Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game and he thinks you should, too.
In fact, Owen feels so passionately that anyone in business – especially those just starting out – should internalize the ideas Sinek puts forth in The Infinite Game that he sat down to discuss its message and how it should apply to business as a whole.
To start, we broke down what exactly differentiates between a ‘finite’ game and an ‘infinite’ game. Owen pays homage to Sinek by using the example of a football game for a finite game, since it has a designated set of players, a clear way to win, and firm parameters for how, when, and where to play.
An infinite game, on the other hand, is far more nebulous since it lacks most (if not all) of these factors. Instead, an infinite game is an ongoing, ever-changing thing with a wide, inclusive cast of players and no clear path toward victory – and no tangible victory to be won in the traditional sense.
When applied to business, the difference between infinite- and finite-minded business is stark. We discuss examples of finite-minded business Kodak which squandered an opportunity to grow and evolve in favor of short-sighted, short-term financial gain.
Says Owen of Kodak’s finite-minded thinking, “They favored short-term gains that led to the destruction of their entire business.”
However, just because an infinite-minded organization defies defining their successes by a hard, numerical victory doesn’t mean they aren’t striving toward a goal. In fact, Sinek outlines the concept of a Just Cause, an integral part of any infinite-minded business. One key way to ensure your organization perseveres is to create and honor a Just Cause.
Owen in particular cites the example Sinek provides in The Infinite Game about Nikolai Vavilov, a prominent Russian scientist who dedicated and ultimately sacrificed his life for his just cause – to end world hunger. His team of scientists believed in this cause so passionately that their work survived whole wars and continues on to this day.
Inspired by Vavilov and Sinek’s definition of a Just Cause, Owen speaks to creating infinite goals for your business and offers insight into how he overcame the traditional, limiting practice of considering financial benchmarks ‘goals’ and instead worked to create a sustainable, larger-than-life Just Cause.
This topic brought into question the evolution of the purpose of business, which Sinek mentions in The Infinite Game. Sinek writes of Adam Smith, the father of capitalism, and Milton Friedman, a revolutionary who changed the course and purpose of businesses.
Owen, inspired by Sinek, says, “Adam Smith is the father of capitalism. He defined what the free market was, and he defined capitalism as we know it. There’s an excerpt in The Infinite Game from [a book called] The Wealth of Nationswhich talks about how the entire point of a producer [initially] was for the good of the consumer. But Friedman disagreed and said the sole role of an executive was to optimize the business for the owners.”
Does Owen think this is sustainable? Like Sinek, he thinks Adam Smith had the right idea all along. And for those who subscribe to Friedman’s line of thinking, Owen says starkly, “Pretty quickly you’re not going to have a business.”
A key part of business is existing in a marketplace where there are other businesses like yours vying for the same consumers. In a finite game, these other businesses are seen as adversaries. In an infinite game, Sinek advises them to be embraced as worthy rivals.
“It’s the difference of an abundance mindset versus the idea that we’re squabbling over resources,” says Owen, citing another example from The Infinite Game of Apple’s infinite mindset and just cause-focus versus Microsoft’s finite model.
But recalibrating your business into an infinite-minded organization has a larger impact than simple longevity. It also protects against ethical fading, where members of your organization begin to engage in unethical practices over time to meet arbitrary, short-sighted goals. Owen mentions the infamous case of Wells Fargo’s bloated, inaccurate bank account statistics as an example of ethical fading made by an organization trying to appear successful to shareholders instead of prioritizing their just cause and infinite game.
With all of the knowledge Sinek imparted via The Infinite Game under his belt, Owen sheds some light on how we at Blue Summit Supplies have worked to apply what we learned from the Infinite Game to the uneasy, rapidly fluctuating climate during the onset of COVID-19. This includes how Owen maintained this people-centric focus despite plummeting revenue and uncertainty as an example of optimizing for longevity over instant or short-term gains.
“It makes you jump to the bigger picture first before focusing on the small. It’s a very subtle difference, but very important.”
For anyone in a similar position to the one Owen was in three years ago – just starting out and unsure of where or how to start, put their focus, and frame their thinking – you won’t be surprised to hear that his first piece of advice is “read The Infinite Game.” His second? “Think bigger, think about what you want, and don’t be discouraged when you don’t know.”
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