In for the long haul

I just finished reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Currently, the NFL playoff games are being played to determine, ultimately, who will go on to the Super Bowl. Like all sports, there are definite rules to play by, and at the end of the game the team with the highest score wins. At the end of every sports game there is a winner and a loser. This is a great example of a finite game.

As the author points out, in infinite games there are no winners or losers because the game never ends. Rather than thinking in terms of nine innings or two halves, leaders in infinite games must think much more long term. In the process of doing that they are able to build much stronger and innovative organizations. Throughout the book Sinek points out how finite thinking harms businesses and other organizations even though the short-term results may be positive. He points out how companies like Ford, CVS and Disney have benefited from having leaders who had an infinite mindset while other companies such as Kodak, Blackberry and Wells Fargo have been harmed under finite thinking.

One of the things that struck me reading this book is how prevalent finite thinking is across organizations. Businesses are focused on making their numbers and hitting their projections so Wall Street will reward them. Politicians are focused on the next election to ensure they remain in office. Church leaders work very hard to maintain the status quo to keep from upsetting their congregants. When the business hits its numbers, the politician is re-elected and the pastor remains another year each proclaims success and calls it a win. But, what have they really won? The next quarter has already started as has another election cycle and the church will have another business meeting next month or next quarter. The game is on-going, but we are declaring victory in the middle of it! The game is infinite, but too many of us are playing with a finite mindset.

One of the chapters is called The Courage to Lead, and this is exactly what is needed. We need leaders who will step up and lead the organization to function according to its Just Cause (another important chapter). Rather than thinking only in the short-term leaders must begin thinking long-term. Rather than focusing solely on profits leaders need to be thinking about how to best serve the ones who are generating those profits and their customers.

The cost of finite thinking can be very high. Sinek begins his book by asking why, when America won almost every battle it fought in Vietnam, it lost the war. As a Vietnam veteran that question hit home. The answer lies in the fact that our leaders, both military and civilian, were thinking in terms of a finite war while the Vietnamese leaders took an infinite view of the war. After all, they had been in one war or another for a very long time before America became involved. Regardless of how many individual battles they lost they would not lose the war.

This book made me think about my own approach to what I do, and I think it will affect you in the same way. Whether we realize it or not, we are all in an infinite game called life. We might as well learn how to play it well.

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