Why I Wrote "The Infinite Game"
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.