Podcast: Playing the Infinite Game

You know Simon Sinek? Best-selling author, leadership expert, the people-don’t-buy-what-you-do-they-buy-why-you-do-it guy? Author of the third-most watched TED Talk of all time, titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” More than 47 million views and counting. That Simon Sinek?

He’s not my guest this week. Had you going there for a second, didn’t I?

But he is the inspiration for this week’s show. He is, in fact, all over this week’s show. He has a new book out titled The Infinite Game, and after reading it, I’ve become semi-obsessed with this notion of playing the Infinite Game, of adopting an infinite mindset.

So I sat down with Stephen Shedletzky, head of brand voice with Simon Sinek’s team at Start With Why. He supports leaders in creating environments where their people feel inspired to go to work, feel safe and valued while they are there, and return home at the end of each day fulfilled by the work they do.

Stephen and I talked about all of this — the difference between Finite and Infinite Games, the benefits of thinking more infinitely, and how traditionally Finite-based professions — like accounting and finance — can get started down a path toward thinking more Infinitely.

In this conversation, we cover:

  • The difference between Finite and Infinite Games.
  • The benefits of thinking more infinitely.
  • First steps toward adopting a more Infinite mindset.

Listen to our conversation here:

The Infinite Game
What does playing an Inifinite Game mean? Let’s let Simon Sinek explain it himself. This video comes from a talk he gave for the New York Times back in May of 2018. Take a listen:

In other words, in the Infinite Game, we’re not competing against others — we’re competing against ourselves, always trying to outdo ourselves, always trying to take another step closer to our ultimate vision. The vision is the goal, not beating anybody else, not being number one.

There’s so much magic embedded in that mindset.

Take Nike as just one example, through the lens of a whitepaper titled “Nike: A Case Study in Change and Management” from a group called Academia. Back in the day — the early to mid-1960s, to be specific — an upstart athletic shoe company called Nike created a mission for itself. That mission consisted of two words: “Crush Adidas.” Adidas was a huge international brand that dominated the market, and Nike wanted in. They put all of their time, effort, and energy into achieving that mission.

And by the mid-1980s, they had accomplished that mission. They had crushed Adidas. But once they did that, “Crush Adidas” was no longer a compelling mission. And so, resting on their laurels, they did the same old thing until an upstart named Reebok came along and, in essence, crushed Nike. So Nike had to re-tool its mission, and the new mission became “Crush Reebok” … which, by the mid-1990s, they eventually did.

Then someone at Nike got smart.

“In an effort to avoid another relapse, Nike pursued a new vision, which did not focus on beating their opponent, but rather on becoming the best they could be for their customers,” the Academia whitepaper reads. “The current mission of Nike is ‘to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete’ in the world.” Nike then supplements this statement by clarifying the term ‘athlete’ with a quote from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman: ‘If you have a body, you are an athlete.’”

In other words, Nike’s new mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every person on earth.

Now that’s an Infinite Game.

It’s not about beating anybody. It’s about advancing your mission. It’s about improving people’s lives and making a difference. That’s a mission people can get behind. That’s a mission that inspires people.

The Infinite Game isn’t about crushing anyone or being number one. It’s about purpose.



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