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Book synthesis

How to play a game that never ends

The business environment no longer resembles a finite game in which the winners (and losers) are clearly defined. In reality, the cards are constantly being shuffled and the rules constantly reinvented. Author Simon Sinek finds that companies that last are not the ones that play to win — they are the ones that play to continue playing. And their leaders adopt an infinite mindset to build stronger, more innovative, and more inspiring organizations — to lead us into the future.

Today, whatever the market, the playing field has no limits: new entrants jostle established players, positions change constantly. However, many organizations still think they’re playing a finite game, with fixed rules and an established perimeter. Result: their business is no longer sustainable. According to a 2018 McKinsey study, the average lifespan of an S&P 500 firm was 90 years in 1935 compared to 14 years in 2010. And the decline in lifespan is accelerating. To beat the odds, you’ll have to play an infinite game. But never fear: an infinite game turns out to be stimulating and fulfilling for all parties. 

Gather around a just cause 

In a finite game, the goal is limited: win in order to win. In an infinite game, the goal is to play for a just cause, a shared ambition that translates into a collective, long-term gain for all stakeholdersAn infinite game is : 

  • A “for” cause (not “against”). It’s easy to mobilize your teams against a rival, but it is more sustainable  yet admittedly more difficult  to focus on an engaging long-term mission. 
  • An inclusive cause, open to the various stakeholders who wish to join. 
  • A lasting cause, defined in a sufficiently universal and enduring way, which will weather technological and cultural changes. The music industry should have made music sharing their cause instead of focusing on selling records. 
  • An idealistic cause: unattainable but motivating. 

According to Sinek, every company should have a CEO who is an in inspiring CVO (Chief Vision Officer) as guardian of the cause, and not a CFO or COO. Mike Duke, CEO of Walmart between 2009 and 2013, played a finite game focusing on the value created for shareholders. Company prices skyrocketed … before falling. Doug McMillon, his replacement, refocused his vision on customers: Walmart is doing much better under his leadership. 

 

Build confident teams 

 

Excerpt from Business Digest N°302, December 2019 – January 2020

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Françoise Tollet
Published by Françoise Tollet
She spent 12 years in industry, working for Bolloré Technologies, among others. She co-founded Business Digest in 1992 and has been running the company since 1998. And she took the Internet plunge in 1996, even before coming on board as part of the BD team.