The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek
Corporate management and leadership have been evolving since its inception. Scientific management, Taylorism, Sociotechnical Systems Theory and other that have developed since the industrial revolution. The one that is very well known is Jack Welch’s Six Sigma which was made famous during his tenure as CEO at GE. This was the gold standard in corporate management for decades but recently this method is being revisited.
The cutthroat, Hunger Games style of competition is now seen as toxic environment. A new trend in leadership and management has been gaining traction which many corporations have been embracing. The trend is reflected in a recent book I read: The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Simon is best known for Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. He also had spoken in TED talks. I have not read his other books but want to discuss his main hypothesis on The Infinite Game.
First, he starts off by defining a finite game and an infinite game. Finite games have definite endings like any competition games. They have clear defined rules, played by known players and an agreed-upon objective when reached, ends the game. Baseball has nine innings to declare a winner – the objective is to have more points. Football has one hour to declare who has more points. Infinite games are played by known and unknown players with no clear objective and definitely no end. There are many examples of this and he conceptualizes them as journeys and not events, such as does anyone win in life since we all die? Or can any nation win global politics? He puts this same concept in business and focuses on this and how leaders can best play in this infinite game.
Business is an infinite game with unknown players such as competitors who were once partners or new startups and with infinite rules such as environment, market conditions, new competitions, regulations, trends and others, so how does one succeed? Simon starts out with how one fails because leaders play this game with a finite mindset. They are looking to solve the immediate problem such as drop in quarterly revenue, drop in stock price to address shareholders or cut costs to inflate profit. This type of mindset may cause short term benefit but can not last. He cited many examples of great companies that fell in to this trap.
How leaders should set their mindset
He elaborates how leaders can get their mindset to play the infinite game. The decision may go against immediate satisfaction and leaders have to rise above this. He mentions there are five keys to playing the infinite game:
- Just Cause
- Trust in teams
- Worthy adversary
- Existential flexibility
- Courage to lead
Simon explains each keys and gives examples of companies that have taken this route. Apple did this with GUI, iPod (worthy adversary), CVS removed cigarettes from their store (courage to lead) and Walt Disney reviving his company (existential flexibility). He cites many examples of companies that did not do this such as Kodak and Xerox. Leaders can not do this without the support of the workers as they are the foundation of any company. They are not seen as a commodity seen during the years of Six Sigma. Leaders need to trust their workers and believe in the same cause to have full trust.
With recent trends on inclusivity and diversity, leaders seem to be looking more in to emotional aspects in developing workers and achieving the goals of their company. Results are still seen with statistics, but the approach is to establish great teams and work chemistry which usually results in better numbers. This movement is interesting and I do wonder how other countries would view this approach. For example, in Asia, most companies seem to demand loyalty and workers are fiercely loyal. They are looking for brutal efficiency and long hours. So, can this approach be integrated to their work culture? It would be interesting to get their take on this book.
The book is reflecting the current management styles of other books I have read and using emotional intelligence to guide leaders and being advocates not critics of their workers. I am looking forward to reading his other books: Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. Will update my blogs with my perspective on them. Stay tuned!!