The Infinite Game

Shawn Temple
The Infinite Game

I recently read "The Infinite Game" by Simon Sinek. Great book. I highly recommend it. It certainly fits nicely into this idea that I’m so passionate about: helping organizations succeed by getting healthier through trust, clarity, alignment and discipline.

The central tenet of the book is that there are two types of games in business—the finite game and the infinite game. Too many companies obsess with playing, and trying to win, in the ‘finite’ game. Like a sports game, the finite game has a specified beginning, ending, timeframe, rules and score.

But in business, such a thing doesn’t really exist (with the exception of a private equity firm’s intent to build up a company for the sole purpose of selling it for profit). And in credit unions and community banks, playing a finite game with a finite mindset should never happen.

Learn To Play the Infinite Game

We need to learn how to play a different game—an infinite game. To do so, we need to have an infinite mindset. Sinek says in the book:

“In the infinite game, the true value of an organization cannot be measured by the success it has achieved based on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure. While a finite-minded leader works to get something from their employees, customers and shareholders in order to meet arbitrary metrics, the infinite-minded leader works to ensure that their employees customers and shareholders remain inspired to continue contributing with their efforts, their wallets and their investments.”

Important monthly, quarterly and annual metrics are fine, even necessary. But they aren’t the whole game. They are road markers. When we play the finite game, we make worse decisions that may help us in the short-term, but they are often terrible for the long-term success of any organization.
For example: we may slash important budgets, issue a round of layoffs to meet an annual budgetary metric, reward “top-performers” even though they are toxic to our culture, and various other less-than-ideal decisions.

Build an Inspiring Legacy

To play the infinite game, we need to shift our natural inclination away from “quick wins” and “winners vs losers." Like anything else you do well, playing the infinite game takes hard work, discipline and courage. It requires great leaders with solid vision and the ability to create an environment where people want to contribute.

It requires finding our “why" or our “just cause." When you play the infinite game, you build and maintain trusting teams, always keeping the pathway ethical. You are adaptable, finding a worthy rival to keep you on your toes, and once again…courage and discipline.

In the infinite game, as in the game of life, you want people to remember you not for the arbitrary, annual wins at some point in your tenure. You want them to remember you for the lives you impacted and the difference you made. You are writing your legacy every day. Perhaps reframing it in the context of the finite versus infinite game will help you turn your legacy into a finely crafted novel.

If you’re ready to turn your whole organization into one that plays an infinite game, email us about our organizational health services today. Let’s craft a legacy that counts.

Shawn Temple
Strategy Director