The Infinite Game

Simon Sinek

Right in the acknowledgements, Sinek writes why he decided to write this book: He read James P. Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games, and after some time, meetings, and conferences, he decided to apply the infinite thinking paradigm to business.

Using selected stories, he attempts to explain how finite thinking made some leaders lose their just cause pursuit in favor of some shorter-term things, and how infinite thinking leaders saved companies by returning them to the pursuit of a just cause.

Without a doubt, my favorite chapter was the first one, in which he explains the differences between finite and infinite games.

Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. […] In finite games, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end. Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want.

According to him, and repeated throughout the book, is the idea that in inifinite games there are no winners. Players just stop playing, or join the game.

In business, finite thinking means measuring the value of organization in “conventional” ways: market share, stock prices, sales, etc. Infinite thinking means measuring the value 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”.

When we play with a finite mindset in the Infinite Game, we will continue to make decisions that sabotage our own ambitions. It’s like eating too many desserts in the name of “enjoying life” only to make oneself diabetic in the process.

I love finding knowledge tangents in books. In this one, it was Nikolai Vavilov’s dream of improving cereal crops to sustain global population. He lived in Leningrad during the 1941-1944 siege.

According to Wikipedia:

1940 – arrested for allegedly wrecking Soviet agriculture; delivered more than a hundred hours of lectures on science while in prison

1943 – died imprisoned and suffering from dystrophia (faulty nutrition of muscles, leading to paralysis), in the Saratov prison.

That short story, part of Chapter 2: Just Cause, made me gain an interest in Nikolai Vavilov’s life, crops, famines, and some history of the communism in Russia.

Update: Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine by Gary Paul Nabhan turned out to be one of my favorite books.