Do we want our kids to be number one in everything or do we wish to raise our children to be “good kids?” - Simon Sinek
With the launch of Simon’s latest book, The Infinite Game, we conducted an internal team read along so we could learn, share and grow together. We unpacked examples of what it means to lead with an infinite mindset as a leader of a business, organization or political party. The parents on our team naturally began to explore what it meant to apply an infinite mindset to parenting. Here’s what a few our team’s parents had to share.
Press & PR
As a parent, sometimes it feels like the finite games of life — teeth brushing, room cleaning, homework finishing, etc. etc. etc. — are infinite! But when I take the time to breathe and remind myself what I really want for my daughter, I can put those tasks into perspective. And then even those tasks can be a vehicle for how to play in an infinite game. Teeth brushing becomes about health and self-respect. Room cleaning becomes about independence and living in community with other people. Finishing homework becomes about responsibility and determination.
While the framework of an infinite game is handy for how we talk about everyday things with our kids, I also think about how I am (or am not) modeling an infinite mindset in my own actions. When my daughter sees me learning new things, helping neighbors I know and don’t know, engaging my community from the school board to Congress, or even making my own bed, she observes how I choose to play the game — with others and in service to others. Actions speak louder than words. (This is a direct correlation to the CVS and tobacco example in the book! 🙂 )
Raising five kids, I feel like the CEO, CFO, COO and HR of a small company. There are different personalities, skill sets, opinions, attitudes and levels of willingness at any given moment. Adopting an infinite mindset is valuable in leading such a “company” that is constantly growing, maturing, evolving, and shifting.
The mindset that everyone is valued and is worthy of support and opportunity is helpful in raising a large family. We could not function well nor survive the ups and downs of life if we were only out for ourselves. We need one another to survive and thrive. It is important in a large family for everyone to show up for one another and to also feel valued themselves. It is essential for everyone to have their moment to shine and to be seen and heard.
Dinner is our version of a board meeting. We discuss everyone’s day and share events, big and small. We take the time to celebrate all moments - from losing a tooth to acing a math test. We talk about our struggles and challenges from friends to school work. We talk about the future, our dreams, and opportunities. It is when we can be transparent, vulnerable and honest. By creating and nurturing that space, we are able to navigate through tough times and good times as a family. We learn not to feel jealous or threatened by one another and instead to support and challenge one another. We help each other see the bigger picture in life.
Although we see the value in finite moments and experiences, we do not let ourselves be limited by such moments. Those finite moments are opportunities to learn larger lessons, to see and reach for bigger goals. An infinite mindset helps us evaluate the path we are on and the direction our “company” is heading. An infinite mindset helps strengthen the foundation of our family by emphasizing the importance of community, accountability, responsibility, empathy, and awareness of one’s personal actions and their influence on others.
Leading my family with an infinite mindset helps me inspire everyone to be committed to themselves and to our family as a whole. We all need to be flexible and open-minded for everyone in our family to succeed and progress forward as we all grow older, as our individual and collective needs change, and when life throws unexpected curveballs. An infinite mindset helps me show and teach my kids that it is possible for them to live to their individual potential and be “successful” while simultaneously living in service to one another for the greater good of all.
Unlike a marathon, parenting has no end and no mile-markers to tell us how we are doing. Parenting is infinite, and let’s face it, some days we are ahead, and other days we feel way behind. And that is ok.
Embracing an infinite mindset allows us to recognize and accept that we are not perfect parents, that we are human and we will have many “not our best parenting” moments. Being infinite-minded allows us to embrace the moments when we are on or off our game, and openly admit and share with our spouse and kids when we do fall. Parenting with an infinite mindset reminds us that all we can do is learn and keep learning, try and keep trying, and just be ok with that. I believe doing it together with our kids is what matters.
Here is how it played out in my house recently. We had one of those mornings, trying to get out of the house and no one was listening to me and I was mad. We were now running late and no one had brushed their teeth or made their beds. I was now screaming. I dropped the kids at school and I felt horrible.
That evening, I huddled with the kids to talk about what happened that morning. I started by owning and apologizing for my actions and reactions and I shared with them how I felt and why I got angry. By doing so, my kids owned their part and apologized too. We all ended up talking about what we can all do differently tomorrow so we can have a better start to the day. The best part of the conversation, we all recognized that tomorrow is a new day and we get to have a do-over, and that we may not nail it tomorrow or the next day, but we all promised to keep trying.
This taught me, yet again, that some days we are ahead and some days we are behind. The goal of an infinite game is to keep going. For that one moment, I was running full speed ahead!
Head of Finance
As the mother of a one-year-old and two-year-old I feel as if our life can be infinitely chaotic. The reality is our life is full of both chaotic and harmonious moments. When I apply an infinite mindset to my parenting I consider how these moments with my children translate to the future. I ask myself: is it important to dominate, win these battles with them, or have them conform to what I want at the present time? Or is it more important to truly understand who they are and build a relationship with them now, in this moment, which ultimately affects both of our futures.
The other morning I found us rushing around the house to get to school as I had an early morning call. After showers I was trying to get the little ones dressed, however, they each thought it would be fun to keep crawling away from me, run into the living room to play, or even undress after they were fully dressed. Admittedly, in a moment of frustration, realizing I might be late for the call, I raised my voice, yelling “I have a call, we have to go!” Right after I raised my voice, I took a deep breath and realized it was my issue that we were running late. I could have done numerous things to keep us on track – shortened the shower, gotten up earlier, had my 2-year-old dress herself instead of me insisting I dress her the “right way.” I quickly apologized to my children, telling them, mommy loves them, it was my fault we were running behind, and gave them both big hugs.
Little children have no concept of time, deadlines, or schedules. They only know the here and now. To them playing in the living room or laughing on the bed while crawling away from mommy was the most important thing to them in that moment. To them time is infinite. I’m the one who has put barriers on time, restricting myself to deadlines and schedules. Having an infinite mindset helps me to see that I want to build a strong bond with my children and not demand they adhere to my needs. I want them to feel the freedom to be who they are in the here and the now. It doesn’t mean there aren’t schedules to adhere to or we can show up to calls whenever we want. However, it does mean I don’t have to overreact to their ability to only see the moment they are living in.
Our lives are finite, but life is infinite. We are the finite players in the infinite game of life. We come and go, we’re born and we die, and life still continues with us or without us. There are other players, some of them are our rivals, we enjoy wins and we suffer losses, but we can always keep playing tomorrow (until we run out of the ability to stay in the game). And no matter how much money we make, no matter how much power we accumulate, no matter how many promotions we’re given, none of us will ever be declared the winner of life.
In any other game, we get two choices. Though we do not get to choose the rules of the game, we do get to choose if we want to play and we get to choose how we want to play. The game of life is a little different. In this game, we only get one choice. Once we are born, we are players. The only choice we get is if we want to play with a finite mindset or an infinite mindset.
If we choose to live our lives with a finite mindset, it means we make our primary purpose to get richer or promoted faster than others. To live our lives with an infinite mindset means that we are driven to advance a Cause bigger than ourselves. We see those who share our vision as partners in the Cause and we work to build trusting relationships with them so that we may advance the common good together. We are grateful for the success we enjoy. And as we advance we work to help those around us rise.
To live our lives with an infinite mindset is to live a life of service.
Remember, in life, we are players in multiple infinite games. Our careers are just one. No one of us will ever be declared the winner of parenting, friendship, learning or creativity either. However, we can choose the mindset with which we approach all these things. To take a finite approach to parenting means to do everything we can to ensure our kids not just get the best of everything but are the best at everything. A seemingly fair standard for these things “will help our kid excel in life.” Except when a finite mindset is the primary means of play, it can give way to ethical fading or becoming more obsessed with our child’s standing in the hierarchy over if they are actually learning or growing as a person.
An extreme example is shared by clinical psychologies and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Wendy Mogel. She tells the story of a father who raised his hand during a conference at which she was speaking to tell her that “he had a fight with the pediatrician about his son’s apgar score ... and I won.” The apgar score is a test performed within the first minute to five minutes of a child’s birth to determine their strength. Basically, as Dr. Mogel explains, “if they are blue and floppy, you get a one, if they are pink and plump they get a five.” Think about that for a second. This parent seemed more concerned with “winning” and getting his newborn child a higher score rather than concerning himself with his child’s health. Flash forward 18 years and think about the lengths that parent might go to ensure his child gets the best scores to get into the best school. Not to mention the impact it will have on the child’s personal growth.
To parent with an infinite mindset, in contrast, means helping our kids discover their talents, pointing them to find their own passions and encouraging they take that path. It means teaching our children the value of service, teaching them how to make friends and play well with others. It means teaching our kids that their education will continue for long after they graduate school. It will last their entire lives ... and there may not be any curriculum or grades to guide them. It means teach out kids how to live a life with an infinite mindset themselves.
To live a life with an infinite mindset means thinking about second and third order effects of our decisions. It means thinking about who we vote for with a different lens. It means taking responsibility for later impact of the decisions we make today.
And like all infinite games, in the game of life, the goal is not to win, it is to perpetuate the game.
We only get one choice in the infinite game of life. What will you choose?
Hanging in the lobby of CVS’s corporate headquarters was a huge sign that stated their Just Cause: Helping people on their path to better health. And the company’s executives believed it. They saw their company as having a purpose beyond just making money; they wanted to use their company to advance something bigger. They regularly had meetings with health-care companies, hospitals and physicians on how they could better work together for patients. However, near the end of many of these meetings someone would point to the elephant in the room: “But don’t you sell cigarettes in your stores?”
In February 2014, CVS Caremark announced that it would stop selling any tobacco-related products in all of their over 2,800 stores. It was a decision that would cost the company $2 billion per year in lost revenue. It was a decision they chose to make even though there was no competitive pressure to do so. There was no loud public demand that they make the decision. There was no scandal. There was no online campaign to force them to make the decision.
The news was met with overwhelming support from the general public. But Wall Street and its pundits were none too pleased. “It might make money in Oz,” said Jim Cramer, one of CNBC’s financial commentators, “but Wall Street is not Oz. [Wall Street isn’t] saying. ‘You know what? I am going to buy CVS because they are good citizens.’” Cramer went on, “I’m . . . trying to figure out the earnings per share. And the earnings per share for CVS just got worse.”
Other outside commentators agreed and saw the decision as a boost for CVS’s competitors. One Illinois-based sales and marketing consultant pointed out that the decision translated into seven hundred packs of cigarettes a week per store that would now be sold by some other retailer, adding that “retailers know that winning the adult tobacco consumer generates incremental sales from ancillary purchases during the same visit.” Looking through the lens of finite and infinite games, I can’t help but see these responses to CVS’s decision as exquisitely finite minded. If the game of business was a finite game and the future was easy to predict, the pundits would have been 100 percent correct. As it turns out, however, the game is infinite and the future is quite unpredictable.
In reality, that seven hundred packs of cigarettes per week per store didn’t just go somewhere else. They went nowhere. The total sale of cigarettes actually decreased. An independent study commissioned by CVS to see the impact of their decision showed that overall cigarette sales dropped by 1 percent across all retailers in the states where CVS had a 15 percent market share or greater. In those states, the average smoker bought five fewer packs of cigarettes, which totaled 95 million fewer packs sold over an eight-month period. On the other hand, the number of nicotine patches sold increased by 4 percent in the period immediately after CVS stopped selling cigarettes, indicating that CVS’s decision actually encouraged smokers to quit. As for the lost revenue, other purpose-driven companies who previously refused to do business with CVS also took notice. Companies like Irwin Naturals and New Chapter vitamins and supplements, whose products are available at Whole Foods and other specialty health stores, finally agreed to allow CVS to carry their products too. A move that allowed CVS to offer a greater selection of high-quality brands to their customers and open new sources of income. When a company with the stated Cause of helping people live healthier lives made a courageous decision to deliver on that purpose, not only did it help make Americans a little healthier, but it also had a positive impact on overall sales at their pharmacies.
Of course, there are many other factors that have contributed to CVS’s (which soon after the decision changed their name to CVS Health) stock performance. But financial health in the Infinite Game is again, like exercise, impossible to measure in daily steps. It is a steady buildup that, in time, yields dramatic results. Jim Cramer adroitly pointed out that Wall Street isn’t going to buy a company because they are good citizens. But customers and employees do. And more loyal customers and more loyal employees tend to translate into more success for the company. And the more successful a company, the more shareholders tend to benefit. Or am I missing something?
Indeed, as Cramer and other analysts predicted, CVS’s stock price did fall 1 percent the day after the announcement, from $66.11 to $65.44 per share. Only to recover the very next day. A year and a half after the announcement and eight months after the plan was implemented, the stock hit $113.65 per share, double what it had been before the announcement— and a record high for the company. And what of that “gold standard” of public company financial metrics that Jim Cramer was so worried about—the earnings per share? Prior to the announcement in December 2013, CVS had an EPS of $1.04. After the announcement it dropped to $0.95. By the next quarter it was back up to $1.06 and then rose by 70 percent to average $1.77 over the course of the next three years.
Adopting an infinite mindset in a world consumed by the finite can absolutely cost a leader their job. The pressure we all face today to maintain a finite mindset is overwhelming. For most of us, almost any kind of career opportunities we have are almost all tied to how well we perform in the finite game. Add the steady drumbeat of the analyst community, pressure from private equity or venture capital firms, the tying of executive pay packages to stock performance rather than company performance (which amazingly don’t always align), our egos and the pressure many of us put on ourselves because we falsely tie our own value or self-worth to how we perform in the finite game, and any hopes we may have to do anything other than play with a finite mindset seem completely dashed. Bowing to the pressure of the finite players around us is the easy and expedient choice. This is why it takes courage to adopt an infinite mindset.
The Courage to Lead is a willingness to take risks for the good of an unknown future. And the risks are real. For it is much easier to tinker with the month, the quarter or the year, but to make decisions with an eye to the distant future is much more difficult. Such decisions may indeed cost us in the short term. It may cost us money or our jobs. It takes the Courage to Lead to operate to a standard that is higher than the law—to a standard of ethics. And when we are pressured to do things that violate that ethical code, it takes the Courage to Lead to speak up, to make those who would pressure us to do otherwise aware of the situation they are creating. And it takes courage to offer our help so they may fix it. It takes the Courage to Lead to make decisions counter to the current standards of business and it takes the Courage to Lead to ignore the pressure of outside parties who are not invested in or believers in our Just Cause.
Courage, in the Infinite Game, is not solely about the actions we take. Even leaders who operate with a finite mindset can take risks. Courage, as it relates to leading with an infinite mindset, is the willingness to completely change our perception of how the world works. It is the courage to reject Milton Friedman’s stated purpose of business and embrace an alternative definition. When we have the courage to change our mindset from a finite view to a more infinite view, many of the decisions we make, like CVS’s choice to stop selling cigarettes, seem bold to those with a more traditional view of the world. To those who now see the world through an infinite lens, however, such a decision is, dare I say it, obvious.
So how are we to find the courage to change our mindset?
1. We can wait for a life-altering experience that shakes us to our core and challenges the way we see the world.
2. Or we can find a Just Cause that inspires us; surround ourselves with others with whom we share common cause, people we trust and who trust us; identify a Rival worthy of comparison that will push us to constantly improve; and remind ourselves that we are more committed to the Cause than to any particular path or strategy we happen to be following right now.
The first method is completely legitimate and indeed is the way so many of our great leaders came to be infinite minded. Be it tragedy, opportunity or divine intervention—something pushed them, sometimes quite suddenly, to see the world in an entirely new way. This method is, however, a bit of a gamble. . . . I would not recommend that we simply go about our days waiting for this to happen.
The second method offers us a little more control. All that is required is a little faith, a little discipline and the willingness to practice. For many, that conversion can feel pro- found. Beyond how it feels, however, such a mind shift does indeed affect the decisions and actions we take. To those who still see the world through a finite lens, our actions may seem idealistic, naïve or stupid. To those who believe what we believe, our actions will seem courageous. To the infinite-minded players out there, those courageous choices become the only options available.
Excerpted from The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.
Finite games, according to James P. Carse, have known players, fixed rules and a clear end point. The winners and losers are easily identified, like in a game of football or chess.
In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable and there is no defined end point. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game. There is no such thing as “winning business” or “winning life,” for example, there is only ahead and behind.
The more I started to understand the difference between finite and infinite games, the more I began to see infinite games all around us. I started to see that many of the struggles that organizations face exist simply because their leaders were playing in an infinite game with a finite mindset. These organizations tend to lag behind in innovation, discretionary effort, morale and ultimately performance.
The leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, in stark contrast, build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Their people trust one another and their leaders. They have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, while their competitors fall by the wayside. Ultimately, they are the ones who lead the rest of us into the future.
In START WITH WHY, I wanted to show the value of starting with purpose in all we do. In LEADERS EAT LAST, I made a case for how leaders can build trust by creating Circles of Safety. Now, in this new book, I attempt to offer a framework to help us better navigate the game in which we are all players: The Infinite Game.
Read more in The Infinite Game. Now available!
Simon Sinek is an avowed optimist. He’s even made it his Linkedin headline. His life mission, he says, is “to help build a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired, feel safe at work, and return home fulfilled at the end of the day.” He’s pursued that mission through books, lectures, social media… and judging by his millions of readers and followers, it’s working. In his new book “The Infinite Game”, to be released October 15, Sinek explores the concept of finite and infinite games, popularized by theologian James Carse in the 1980s. Business, Sinek says, is a game that cannot be won, too often played as if it could. And we all suffer for it.
Isabelle Roughol: Let's start with the concepts. What are finite and infinite games?
Simon Sinek: A finite game is a game in which there's a beginning, a middle and an end. The players are known, the rules are agreed upon. The objective is to win the game. When the game is won, when the game comes to a conclusion, the game ends. We all go home. Football, for example.
Then, there's an infinite game. An infinite game has known and unknown players. The rules are changeable and you can play however you want. The objective is to perpetuate the game, to stay in the game as long as possible. If we think about it, we are players in infinite games every day of our lives. There's no such thing as winning in friendship, there's no such thing as winning in marriage. There's definitely no such thing as winning in global politics and there's no such thing as winning business. Nobody's declared the winner of business.
But, if we think about it, if we listen to the words of too many leaders, they don't actually know the game they're playing. They talk about being number one, being the best, or beating their competition. The problem is when we play with a finite mindset in a game that has no finish line, there's some very predictable and consistent outcomes. There's the decline of trust, the decline of cooperation and the decline of innovation, and eventually the demise of the organization.
What does it look like to run an organization with an infinite mindset?
Leaders who have an infinite mindset, instead of showing up to win, show up to advance a Just Cause, something bigger than themselves, a vision of an idealized future so compelling, so just, that people would willingly sacrifice to be there. That could mean turning down a better paying job, or working late hours, or frequent business trips. Though we may not like these things, they feel worth it because I feel a part of something bigger than myself.
They have trusting teams. These are teams in which people come to work and feel safe to admit mistakes or ask for help. They do these things with absolute confidence that people in their team or their boss will rush in to support them. Organizations that don't have trusting teams, people show up every single day hiding mistakes, pretending that they know what they're doing when they don't, refusing to ask for help. Eventually, things start to crack and even break.
[Infinite-minded organizations] also have changed their mindset away from having competitors to having worthy rivals. A competitor is someone we want to beat, whereas a worthy rival is another player in the game who's worthy of comparison. Their strengths reveal to us our weaknesses. These infinite-minded organizations are obsessed with who's actually better than they are, so they can learn more about themselves.
They also have a capacity for something called existential flexibility, which means the willingness to make a profound strategic shift in order to advance the cause, even if it might mean short-term loss or short-term frustration.
Then, finally, [they have] the courage to lead because all of the things I'm talking about are really, really, really difficult. It's much easier to run a company quarterly, or at most annually. It's so much easier to just hire and fire people willy-nilly and not focus on culture and building trust. It takes so much work to be a good leader and create an environment in which people want to work at their natural best. At the end of the day, it's the infinite-minded organizations and it's the infinite-minded leaders who will do what's right rather than what's expedient.
Is that something you can influence when you're not at the very top of the company?
Absolutely. It's more expedient when it comes from the top, of course. But you can use your job to advance your own just cause. At the end of the day, we don't have to resign ourselves to the fact that the senior leaders are short term-focused and there's nothing we can do. That's true. We can't change them. But we can show up to work every single day and be the leaders we wish we had.
The naysayers would say, "That's all well and good, but there are shareholders and objectives for the quarter. This is just not how business is done." What do you respond when people say you're just naïve?
Well, I'm idealistic, for sure. So many of the current business models that we use today were born out of the ‘80s and '90s. It was in the late '70s that an economist named Milton Friedman theorized that the responsibility of business was to maximize profit within the bounds of the law. That's become the mantra of business these days, that's what businesses think their entire purpose is. But it was just one person's opinion.
You started to see his theories lead to things like the concept of shareholder supremacy, where we prioritize the wants, needs, and desires of an external constituency over the wants, needs, and desires of employees or customers, which is the same as a coach who's trying to build a great team taking advice from the fans rather than listening to the players. This idea that shareholders own the company, it's not really true. They're more like share renters. If you think about how you treat a rental car versus how you treat your own car, that's how they treat companies. Why would we take advice from a share renter?
The idea of mass layoffs on an annualized basis to balance the books didn't exist prior to the 1980s. Rank and yank, where we force rank people based on their performance and contribution to stock price, for example, promote the top 10% and fire the bottom 10%, didn't exist prior to the '80s and '90s. A lot of these theories in the name of profit, in the name of short term-ism, have only gotten worse and more solidified in this modern day where we think — falsely — that this is the way it's always been. This is the way business goes. Absolutely not.
We've bastardized capitalism. Capitalism actually is quite a wonderful thing when it works and it puts human beings first and foremost. But when we actually prioritize numbers before people, which is not what capitalism was intended to do, then we have man-made recessions. We have decline in loyalty; people jump from job to job to job, and nobody really feels safe. We have cheaper products in terms of the quality. That's not what capitalism was ever supposed to be.
This article originally published on LinkedIn.
A shorter version of this interview is published in the October 2019 issue of Delta Sky magazine. #5MinutesWith
It’s surprising that this book even needs to exist. Over the course of human history, we have seen the benefits of infinite thinking so many times. The rise of great societies, advancements in science and medicine and the exploration of space all happened because large groups of people, united in common cause, chose to collaborate with no clear end in sight. If a rocket that was headed for the stars crashed, for example, we figured out what was wrong and tried again ... and again ... and again. And even after we succeeded, we kept going. We did these things not because of the promise of an end‑of‑year bonus; we did these things because we felt like we were contributing to something bigger than ourselves, something with value that would last well beyond our own lifetimes.
For all its benefits, acting with an infinite, long-term view is not easy. It takes real effort. As human beings we are naturally inclined to seek out immediate solutions to uncomfortable problems and prioritize quick wins to advance our ambitions. We tend to see the world in terms of successes and failures, winners and losers. This default win-lose mode can sometimes work for the short term; however, as a strategy for how companies and organizations operate, it can have grave consequences over the longer term.
The results of this default mindset are all too familiar: annual rounds of mass layoffs to meet arbitrary projections, cutthroat work environments, subservience to the shareholder over the needs of employees and customers, dishonest and unethical business practices, rewarding high-performing toxic team members while turning a blind eye to the damage they are doing to the rest of the team and rewarding leaders who seem to care a lot more about themselves than those in their charge. All things that contribute to a decline of loyalty and engagement and an increase of insecurity and anxiety that too many of us feel these days. This impersonal and transactional approach to business seems to have accelerated in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution and seems to be accelerating even more in our digital age. Indeed, our entire understanding of commerce and capitalism seems to have fallen under the sway of short-term, finite-minded thinking.
Though many of us lament this state of things, unfortunately it seems like the market’s desire to maintain the status quo is more powerful than the momentum to change it. When we say things like “people must come before profit,” we often face resistance. Many of those who control the current system, many of our current leaders, tell us we are naïve and don’t understand the “reality” of how business works. As a result, too many of us back down. We resign ourselves to waking up dreading to go to work, not feeling safe when we are there and struggling to find fulfillment in our lives. So much so that the search for that elusive work-life balance has become an entire industry unto itself. It leaves me wondering, do we have another, viable option?
It is entirely possible that perhaps, just perhaps, the “reality” the cynics keep talking about doesn’t have to be that way. That perhaps our current system of doing business isn’t “right,” or even “best.” It is just the system that we are used to, one preferred and advanced by a minority, not the majority. If this is, indeed, the case, then we have an opportunity to advance a different reality.
It is well within our power to build a world in which the vast majority of us wake up every single morning inspired, feel safe at work and return home fulfilled at the end of the day. The kind of change I advocate is not easy. But it is possible. With good leaders—great leaders—this vision can come to life.
Great leaders are the ones who think beyond “short term” versus “long term.” They are the ones who know that it is not about the next quarter or the next election; it is about the next generation.
Great leaders set up their organizations to succeed beyond their own lifetimes, and when they do, the benefits—for us, for business and even for the shareholder—are extraordinary.
I wrote this book not to convert those who defend the status quo, I wrote this book to rally those who are ready to challenge that status quo and replace it with a reality that is vastly more conducive to our deep-seated human need to feel safe, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and to provide for ourselves and our families. A reality that works for our best interests as individuals, as companies, as communities and as a species.
If we believe in a world in which we can feel inspired, safe and fulfilled every single day and if we believe that leaders are the ones who can deliver on that vision, then it is our collective responsibility to find, teach and support those who are committed to leading in a way that will more likely bring that vision to life. And one of the steps we need to take is to learn what it means to lead in the Infinite Game.
The fastest runners in the world run between 12-14mph (19-23kph). The average bear runs between 30-40mph (48-64kph). That means if a bear decides to give chase, even world record-breaking sprinter Usain Bolt, could not outrun it.
But there is an adage: to get away from a bear you don't have to be the fastest runner in the world, you just have to be faster than the guy behind you.
The same is true in business.
It is amazing how many businesses, big and small, like to present themselves as "the best." I once met an optometrist, for example, who bragged to me that her store had "the best service in the industry." A claim that is simply untrue—or at least there is no way to actually measure if it even is true. At the end of the day, there is no way for any business to say they offer the best of anything—service, quality or features. There are no standard metrics and most companies have no idea who all their competitors are.
The good news is, you don't need to be the best. You need to be better. "The best" is an impossible standard that lacks credibility. But "better" is a realistic claim and a much easier comparison to make. The optometrist I met should have told me that she was "driven to offer better service than any of the other stores in the area and, more importantly, to outdo her own great service every year." To her, this seemingly lower claim is actually much more realistic, much more believable and much more appealing.
The standard of "better" also keeps you on your toes. Like being chased by a bear, you always have to be one step ahead not to get eaten. Being better means you have to keep pushing, learning and improving because there is still room for improvement (not to mention there is a huge bear running behind you). Being the best offers only a short-term advantage.
Once you're the best, there is no incentive to push any harder and laziness or hubris start to set in (think about any big company that made it to the top of their industry only to be bashed from all sides by every competitor ... bashed by everyone working to be better). And for all those "bests" out there who believe their incentive is to stay the best, they are fooling themselves. Just as there is much more of an incentive to lose a few pounds than to stay the same weight, just as there is much more of an incentive to run your next race faster than to run it at the same pace, the incentive to improve is always more powerful than the false incentive to stay in one place, even if it's the best.
Any great athlete, company or leader that is actually capable of staying ahead of the pack for any significant period of time is able to do so not because they think they are the best, but because they show up every day to do better than their most important competitor of all: themselves.
Pushing yourself and those around you to be the best is unsustainable. Pushing yourself and those around you to be better is the only way to be the best.
... and outrun the bear.
A significant part of feeling value beyond our compensation is working on something bigger than ourselves.
Everyone has a vision or a mission statement. But we lack a standard definition of those terms, using the same words in different ways. This leads to more confusion than cohesion, both internally with our people and externally with our stakeholders.
So let’s throw out the words and start over. Words must be simple to be understandable. They must be understandable to be repeatable. And if they are repeatable then they will spread.
In our founder Simon Sinek’s upcoming book, The Infinite Game, we put forward a new term: advancing a Just Cause.
A Just Cause is linked to our WHY, our noble purpose for being. Our WHY comes from our past—it is our origin story and it is who we are. Our Just Cause is our WHY projected into the future. It describes a future state in which our WHY has been realized. It is a forward looking statement that is so inspiring and compelling that people are willing to sacrifice to see that vision advanced.
There are five criteria to have a Just Cause. It must be 1) for something, 2) inclusive, 3) service oriented, 4) resilient, and 5) idealistic.
It serves as a positive and specific vision of the future.
While being against something may be effective in rallying people, it doesn’t inspire and it won’t last. A Just Cause is what you stand for rather than what you stand against.
It is open to all those who wish to contribute.
A Just Cause attracts people from diverse skillsets. Too often visions and missions are tied to a specific product or activity. If your stated purpose is about the technology or sales, for example, then it is mostly designed for engineers or salespeople. Everyone else who is not an engineer or salesperson may feel like, or even be treated as, second-class citizens. A Just Cause inspires all to make their worthwhile contributions and feel valued for it.
The primary benefit of the cause has to go to those other than you, the contributors.
For example, if you go to your boss for career advice, the expectation is that the advice you receive will benefit your career. If your boss gives you advice that benefits their self interests, they are not service oriented. This extends to organizations, leaders and investors. The products and services an organization develops must be designed to primarily benefit their customers, not the company itself. If you are a leader, your leadership has to benefit the people in your span of care. And, if you are an investor, the investments you make have to benefit the company with which you are investing. Of course, you can expect a return on your investment, but it must be of secondary benefit. The primary benefactor of the investment is the recipient, not the investor.
Be able to endure political, technological and cultural change.
Again, if you define your Just Cause based upon the prevalence of particular technology or a specific product and there is a market change, your Just Cause will not last.
Big, bold and ultimately unachievable.
It’s not about becoming the biggest, the best or number one. It’s not about reaching some arbitrary revenue target, even if it is huge. It is about pursuing something that is infinite—for all intents and purposes you will not ever attain it. It is, indeed, a vision and not a goal. And as you make progress toward that better future state you imagine, you will be able to feel and measure your momentum. A Just Cause is an ideal. It is something so noble that we would be willing to devote our lives and careers toward advancing it. And, when our careers are over, the Just Cause can live on and serve to inspire further progress; that can be our legacy.
Most people and organizations do not write good vision or mission statements, not because they are bad people, but because we do not yet have a standard definition or guidelines. We are hoping that this framework helps you cast a Just Cause that inspires people for the long run. And, remember, it is the leader’s job to ensure people feel a part of something—not that they simply have a part in something. Inspire your people, and they will inspire you.
Read more in The Infinite Game (now available for pre-order).
The young artist who was told by their high school math teacher that they were lazy.
The son who was told he’s going to screw up his life because he didn’t want to become an accountant like his dad.
The employee who was passed over for a raise or a promotion and was, instead, given a growth plan to help them overcome their weaknesses in order to make it to the next level.
Even the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry—almost everything in this world is geared to point out what’s wrong with us.
Customer complaints vastly outnumber compliments in most companies. Most employees complain about what their company does wrong before they rave about what their company does right. Politicians point out what the other party can’t fix before offering their help to fix it.
It seems no matter where we turn, there is a whole crowd of people ready and willing to tell us what we’re bad at, what we can’t get right and where we’re weak. It’s a wonder anyone of us has any self-esteem left at the end of a day.
But there is huge advantage in disadvantage. The reason others see the failings in us is because they are looking in the wrong place.
Imagine if that the artist’s math teacher realized his student had no natural aptitude for math and, instead of berating her, recommended she take more art classes to develop her natural abilities.
Imagine if the well intentioned father, realizing his son didn’t want to follow in his footsteps, asked him what he did want to do and then did everything to support and nurture the things he wanted to do.
Imagine if a company devoted resources to helping us build on our strengths instead of pushing us to fix our weaknesses.
And imagine if psychologists identified the abnormal advantages we all have instead of labeling the abnormal disadvantages.
The best teachers are the ones who tell us we can. The best parents tell us we should. The best companies show us what we can do. And the best politicians remind us what’s possible if we work together instead of apart.
Take dyslexia, for example. A lot of really great entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson, are dyslexic. Instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do, he figured out ways around it. He became a brilliant problem solver. A lot of dyslexics are good like that. It’s a huge advantage they have.
Or the kid who is told at a young age that they have ADD—they are told they have a “deficit” and a “disorder.” Why aren’t they told that they have an amazing advantage—hyper-focus, a heightened ability to focus on something and devote an intense amount of energy to solving a problem or building something beyond what most people can do. They have an ability to get done in one day what takes others a week.
I have ADHD and it is one of the single greatest advantages I have. Sure it has it’s drawbacks. It’s harder for me to focus on things that don’t interest me. But all that means is I should focus on doing things that do interest me. I have an abnormal advantage and I feel sorry for all the people who aren’t able to apply intense focus on something like those with ADD or ADHD.
The best teachers are the ones who tell us we can. The best parents tell us we should. The best companies show us what we can do. And the best politicians remind us what’s possible if we work together instead of apart.
May we all discover what about us doesn’t fit the norm and, instead of trying to hide or bury it, work to make that our single greatest advantage.