The Infinite Game

Most people approach their career and life with a finite mindset. How much can I win/accomplish/accumulate in the short time I’m here. It’s a game that can be lost.

The goal of the Infinite Game is not to win or lose, it’s to keep playing.

The Infinite Game is less about a product, and more about a cause. The author refers to a “Just Cause” – a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist. It inspires other to want to join and contribute.

A Just Cause must be For Something (something you believe in), service-oriented (for the primary benefit of others), resilient (able to endure change), and idealistic (big, bold and ultimately unachievable). You don’t “win” at the infinite game, you keep playing.

In infinite organizations, products and services advance the cause, they are not THE cause. When your cause becomes the product, your existence is conditional on the relevance of the product. Market changes and new technology can render you obsolete.

With a Just Cause, you are constantly scanning for ideas, opportunities or technologies that help you advance toward the vision, avoiding “shiny object syndrome” – chasing every good idea you come across.

Finite-minded players fear disruption. Infinite-minded players are transformed by disruption. They are open to any possibility that keeps them in the game.

The author gave numerous examples of companies that put product before customer. These companies were massively exposed to market changes and new technology. Many are no longer in business. The companies that put customer before product were more nimble and able to adapt.

Example: Borders saw themselves in the book business (product) instead of the spreading-ideas business (cause), and they paid the price.

Technology is a major disruptor, but It is not technology that explains failure; it is more about the leaders’ failure to envision the future of their business as the world changes around them. Shortsightedness is an inherent condition of leaders who play with a finite mindset.

Having “Worthy Rivals” can be good. They force us to consider their strengths and where we can improve (culture, training, convenience, etc.). Not learning from rivals stunts innovation and improvement.

Finite leaders ask, “How can I get the most out of my people?” Infinite leaders ask, “How do I create an environment in which my people can work to their natural best?” The former is focused on profit, the latter is focused on people.

Finite leaders see people as a cost, but overlook the cost of not investing in their people, which is often much greater (turnover, low morale, poor service, etc.)

The author once shared a cab with an exec from Apple. He decided to “stir the pot” and told the exec he thought Microsoft made a better MP3 player than the iPod. The exec smiled and said, “I have no doubt.” He thought the nonchalant response was odd, but later surmised Apple was not trying the “win” at the iPod, they were playing with an infinite mindset. Soon after, the iPhone was released.

CVS had a huge sign in their headquarters stating their Just Cause: Helping people on their path to better health. The company also sold $2 billion worth of cigarettes annually. When they made the decision to stop selling cigarettes, Wall Street analysts predicted dire results for the company. 18 months after the announcement, CVS’s stock price had doubled. Wall Street hated the strategy, customers loved the Cause.

Is your future success tied to a product, or something bigger?

What game are you playing?

Photo by Jake Davies on Unsplash