People often treat business as sport – thinking it’s all about competing for scarce resources and beating your opponents. But to be truly great we need to adopt a very different approach. That was the message from leadership and marketing author Simon Sinek when he spoke at the Nordic Business Forum in Stockholm earlier this month.
According to religious scholar and game theorist James Carse, there are at least two kinds of games in the world: finite and infinite games. Finite games are games that have clear rules and where the goal is to win and beat your opponent. Infinite games are games where the rules are less clear, and the objective is not to beat someone else but to keep the game going.
Simon Sinek says we too often mistake business for a finite game. We use sports analogies and talk about things like winning the race and beating the competition. But business is not a finite game. The rules are very fuzzy. And no one wins definitely. When we try to do business with this finite mindset, Sinek argues, it leads to a decline in trust, cooperation, and innovation. We focus too much attention on rivals and make decisions based on scarcity. We might think that in order for me to succeed, someone else must lose. But that’s not reality. We are using the wrong rules for the wrong game.
Instead, we should try to lead companies and teams with an infinite mindset. In an infinite game, you can change the rules, help other players and evolve together instead of trying to hold each other down.
But how do you lead an organization with an infinite mindset? According to Sinek, there are five things you need:
1. A just cause
Your business needs to have a higher purpose; something that is more important than just making money. Something that you are willing to suffer for, if need be.
2. Trusting teams
You should lead and inspire based on trust. Trust makes people like their job and perform better. In a trusting culture, people dare to ask for help if they don’t feel they have what they need to do their job. And people dare to raise suggestions and ideas.
3. A worthy rival
You should optimally have a rival who can encourage you to be better. Someone whose strengths can help you see your own weaknesses. This rival might make you insecure and sometimes angry. But that is because deep down you respect the job they are doing.
4. A capacity for existential flexibility
You need to have a willingness to change course completely if it will advance your just cause.
5. Courage to lead for the long game
When you play the infinite game, don’t expect results immediately. Much like going to the gym, success doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you need to commit to a lifestyle with an infinite mindset and play the long game.
Important take away
We believe there is a clear parallel between this infinite approach to business in general and effective marketing. Reality-based marketing is not a campaign – it’s a lifestyle that you commit to. It requires a just cause and a lot of trust – trust in the audience and trust in what you have to say. And it requires a belief that there can truly be mutual benefits for the business, the consumer and society at large. An infinite mindset.