Business is an infinite game where unfortunately most still play it as if it were finite.
Life is infinite. Our lives are finite. But we can live beyond our lives.
We engage in life, business, marriage and other finite endeavors. They’re all games that can’t be won per se. You participate. You do your best. Then there’s next battle, next and the next….
In the 80s, Microsoft sought to beat Apple, where Apple saw Microsoft as a cause to advance. Apple executive simply responded “I have no doubt” when Simon expressed his opinion of Microsoft device being better than Apple iPod. Later Apple introduced iPhone, which changed the smartphone industry forever. Apple saw themselves as the competition. The only one you can compete against is yourself.
5 Keys to Play Infinite Game
- A just cause
- Trusting teams
- Worthy rival
- Existential flexibility
- Courage to lead
A Just Cause
Your just cause must be so meaningful to you, that you’re willing to bear risk for it.
Are you willing to stay in the infinite game?
We can only get closer to our just cause, not really attain it. Everything we do converges towards the goal and in all progress, we get a sense of purpose.
Best is not the permanent state. Infinite-minded leaders understand this. Instead, they strive to be better.
Better suggests the journey of continuous improvement.
Organizations that eat to get fat will eventually suffer from health problems. Growth as a cause often results in unhealthy culture. Trust and cooperation suffers.
Growth is a result, not a cause.
Simon once asked a waiter from Four Seasons hotel if he likes his job. The waiter without hesitation said, “I love my job.” He felt cared for, all managers not just his, ask if they can help. The saw him for who he is. They accepted everyone is perfectly imperfect, so everyone can be themselves.
In other places where he used to work, it’s a different story. The managers are always walking around to catch errors, ensuring he’s doing his job perfectly.
People need to feel safe raising issues, and they must be able to do so without fear of retribution.
Leaders are not responsible for the results. Leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results.
Best way to drive performance in the organization is to create an environment in which information can flow freely, mistakes can be highlighted and help can be offered and received.
In short, an environment in which people feel safe on their own.
Simon once was invited to speak with who he considered was his biggest rival, Adam Grant.
Simon first introduced “you make me unbelievably insecure, because all of your strengths are my weaknesses. You can do so well the things I struggle to do.”
Adam responded, “the insecurity is mutual”.
Simon then understood why he was insecure. The way he saw Adam was nothing to do with Adam. But it was everything to do with himself. When his Adam name comes up, it reminds him all the areas he struggles. Instead of overcoming his weaknesses or building on his strengths, it was easier for him to focus on beating Adam. That’s how competition works right?
The truth is though there is no finish line. Sometimes you are ahead. Sometimes you are not. In an infinite game, one or the other run doesn’t matter.
See the strengths of your rival. It will help you see your weaknesses you can overcome.
Disruption is not going away anytime soon. That’s not going to change. However, how leaders respond to it, can.
When your entire business model is challenged, would you be willing to blow up your business just to advance your cause?
Steve Jobs reasoned “Better we blow up the thing and fail than let someone else do it instead.” when he decided to pursue GUI technology which was inspired by Xerox.
George Eastman continuously lowered the price of camera films through innovation with Kodak and made huge profits. They even invented the digital camera but failed to bring it to the market because of the fear of losing sales on the traditional photos. Instead they let their competitors Fuji and Nikon go to the market while they enjoyed royalties on their patents. But those ultimately dried up when expired. Kodak fundamentally missed their mark and just cause, quality photography at reasonable prices (or that is how we saw them).
Courage to Lead
Becoming a parent is easy. Parenting is hard.
Becoming a boss is easy. Leading a team is hard.
But remember you can only lead the horse to the water, you can’t force to drink it. If it struggles, you wait. It must do it willingly.
In a finite game, we want to know when the things are done. In an infinite game, we don’t know when the things will be done. We just know we’ll get there. Eventually. If we have the courage to lead.
Decide on purpose, not on the pressure of producing the numbers.
It’s one thing to hang your core values on the walls. It’s a completely different thing to honor and act on them.
Most senior person in the organization is to look beyond the organization. “I need to go up and out. I need you to go down and in”.
The combination of the keeper of the vision CEO and the operator CFO is a partnership of complimentary skillsets.
This means we need to stop seeing the CEO as no.1 and CFO as no.2 and start seeing thinking of them as vital partners in a common cause. One does not know how to do the other job better than they do, which is why they need each other.
Live a life of service.
None of us wants our tombstones the last balance in our bank account. We want to be remembered for what we did for others. Devoted mother. Loving father. Loyal friend.
To serve is good for the game. We only get one choice in the infinite game of life.
Which will you choose?