The Infinite Game

By Simon Sinek

Published by Portfolio Books, October 15, 2019; 272 pages; hardcover $28; e-book $15; audiobook $25

In a nutshell: There’s an important distinction between maintaining the status quo and working with a long-term purpose.

Who is it for? General audiences, although the book’s examples make it pertinent for business owners, managers and employees.

Author’s quote: “It is important to celebrate our victories, but we cannot linger on them. For the Infinite Game is still going and there is still much work to be done.”

Author Simon Sinek has a knack for pointing out the oversights prevalent in the business world. His previous book, “Start with Why,” zones in on ways organizations can identify and focus more on a core purpose. Sinek released “The Infinite Game” last year continuing on a similar theme by looking at the trajectory of work as something that will have meaning long after we are retired or gone.

One important premise introduced early in the book is that there is no winning in business. The placing of emphasis on being number one or surpassing a competitor is a shortsighted mindset. Sinek first clarifies this infinite game as something that has no tangible end and is more ongoing.

Sinek explains the following five factors that determine this infinite game mindset, which make up the bones of the book:

  • Having a cause that you and others are willing to sacrifice for.
  • Building a team where team members can confide and trust one another.
  • Having a worthy rival that reveals the team’s weaknesses and drives self-improvement.
  • Building the capacity of “existential flexibility” where the team or company can dramatically shift direction to advance the predetermined cause.
  • There must be people in the organization that have the courage to lead and make difficult decisions that advance the cause over the long haul.

 

Sinek uses examples to explain real life applications for these factors. In 2014 CVS Pharmacy decided to stop selling cigarettes and tobacco products. The decision came about when leadership looked at the company’s existing mission statement which emphasized improving its customers’ health. At the time, Wall Street pundits criticized the decision and its impact on the company’s stock. Yet after a year, CVS sold enough smoking cessation products and gained additional customers to actually increase its overall sales and value.

Steve Jobs and Apple executives toured a Kodak Company facility in the 1970s, seeing firsthand the beginnings of digital technology that Kodak had developed. Internally Kodak felt ambivalent about the future of digital, believing that advancing the new advancement would cannibalize its thriving film business. Kodak’s finite view of itself resulted in the company declaring bankruptcy in 2012. Meanwhile, Jobs envisioned Apple as a company that could use digital technology to transform itself into the tech leader that since has changed course and competitors multiple times.

So how did we get to this finite business landscape that dominates especially our corporate culture? Sinek traces it back to the work of economist Milton Friedman in the 1970s. Friedman theorized that the responsibility of a business was to earn as big of a profit as possible within the bounds of the law. As an economics major in college, I remember the heated discussions about Friedman’s approach as it began to impact the behavior of businesses during that era. Friedman changed the way companies prioritized immediate profits to satisfy stockholders instead of building businesses that could sustain and endure.

“The Infinite Game” demonstrates how this shift increased stockholder dividends, but also created uncertainty for the people working at these companies. Fortunately, Sinek shows more recent examples of companies creating the types of long-term plans that are mandatory for business success. Sinek ends his book with an impassioned call to shift our work toward creating results that will positively impact not just ourselves, but also those who will follow in the future. After all, it is an infinite game.

Chris Wendel is a business advisor with Northern Initiatives, a community development financial institution based in Marquette, Michigan. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at cwendel@northerninitiatives.org.

 

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