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The Infinite Game

by Simon Sinek

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As usual, Simon Sinek writes an inspirational piece on leadership and how we view work. The Infinite Game challenges us to re-evaluate the lens through which we measure our company's success. Full of factual case studies and interesting stories from the business world, Simon makes a compelling pitch to business leaders to recognize people and culture first and buck the Friedman view that business has a singularity purpose, profit. - Nicholas Beaird

Favorite Quotes from The Infinite Game

A finite-minded leader uses the company’s performance to demonstrate the value of their own career. An infinite-minded leader uses their career to enhance the long-term value of the company . . . and only part of that value is counted in money.

After the 1929 stock market crash that lead to the Great Depression, for example, the Glass-Steagall Act was introduced to curb some of the more finite-minded corporate behaviors that were the cause of the instability in the markets at that time. Between the time Glass-Steagall was passed until the 1980s and ’90s, when the act was virtually gutted in the name of opening up the financial markets, the number of stock market crashes that happened was zero. Since the gutting, however, we have had three: Black Monday in 1987, the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008.

The American railroads, for example, were some of the largest companies in the country. Until advancements in automotive technology and a network of highways offered people a quicker and sometimes cheaper alternative to the train. Had the railroads defined their need to exist in terms related to moving people and things instead of advancing the railroad, they might be the owners of major car companies or airlines today. Publishers saw themselves in the book business instead of the spreading-ideas business and thus missed the opportunity to capitalize on new technology to advance their cause. They could have invented Amazon or the digital e-reader. Had the music industry defined themselves as the sharers of music rather than sellers of records, tapes and CDs they would have had an easier time in a world of digital streaming. By defining themselves by a cause greater than the products they sold, they could have invented services like iTunes or Spotify. But they didn’t . . . and now they are paying the price for it

“Friedman proposed that a business has a single responsibility—profit; a very finite-minded view of business. We need to replace Friedman’s definition with one that goes beyond profit and considers the dynamism and additional facets that make business work. In order to increase the infinite value to our nation, our economy and all the companies that play in the game, the definition of the responsibility of business must:
(1) Advance a purpose: Offer people a sense of belonging and a feeling that their lives and their work have value beyond the physical work.
(2) Protect people: Operate our companies in a way that protects the people who work for us, the people who buy from us and the environments in which we live and work.
(3) Generate profit: Money is fuel for a business to remain viable so that it may continue to advance the first two priorities.

Money can buy a lot of things. Indeed, we can motivate people with money; we can pay them to work hard. But money can’t buy true will. The difference between an organization where people are extrinsically rewarded to give their all and one where people are intrinsically motivated to do so is the difference between an organization filled with mercenaries versus one filled with zealots.

The ability for any organization to build new leaders is very important. Think of an organization like a plant. No matter how strong it is, no matter how tall it grows, if it cannot make new seeds, if it is unable to produce new leaders, then its ability to thrive for generations beyond is nil. One of the primary jobs of any leader is to make new leaders. To help grow the kind of leaders who know how to build organizations equipped for the Infinite Game.

As human beings we are blessed and cursed with our ability for rational thought. We try to make sense of the world around us. We can understand complex equations and we have the ability to be introspective. It is with our capacity for rational and analytical thought that we can think through hard problems and advance technology. We can also use this capacity for analytical thinking to explain or justify our behavior when we know it violates some deep-seated code of ethics or helps us avoid some sense of guilt we may harbor for a decision or action we took. It’s like stealing something from a rich friend and saying to yourself, “They won’t even notice. Besides, they can afford another one.” We can rationalize it any way we want; we still stole something from our friend. When such rationalizations become commonplace inside an organization, the snowball grows and grows until unethical behavior pervades the entire organization and, in extreme cases, leads to the kind of corruption that happened at Wells Fargo.

Ethical lapses happen and are part of being human. Ethical fading, however, is not a part of being human. Ethical fading is a failure of leadership and is a controllable element in a corporate culture. Which means the opposite is also true. Cultures that are ethically strong are also a result of the culture the leaders build.

However, trust is not built by pressure or force, trust is built by acting in a way consistent with one’s values, especially when it’s least expected. Trust is built when we do the right thing, especially when we aren’t forced to.

Integrity does not just mean “doing the right thing.” Integrity means acting before the public outcry or scandal. When leaders know about something that is unethical and only act after the outcry, that’s not integrity. That’s damage control. “They wait for public opinion to tell them what to do,” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, when talking about how CEOs make decisions today. “CEO courage is in short supply.”

Sinek, Simon. “The Infinite Game.” Penguin Publishing Group, 2019-10-15. Apple Books. This material may be protected by copyright.