Executive leaders often think of short-term vs. long-term goals, growth plans, and its consequences. There can sometimes be a give-and-take approach. “I can make this much profit by cutting corners but it won’t benefit the company long-term” or “If I do this, we might have a setback but it’ll create long-term growth.” These challenges are part of the leadership package. But there is a better way to approach it.
Simon Sinek released his new book a few weeks ago, The Infinite Game. He writes how short-term and long-term are “finite” ways of thinking. Finite is like a game football. There is a beginning, a middle and an end; in which there is a specific set of rules. But business isn’t like this. It’s an infinite game, where it’s all about how the player chooses to play in a world with undefined boundaries.
· Finite: There is a beginning and an end with a known set of rules. We are focused on beating our competitors and base our products/services on that goal.
· Infinite: Seeing beyond short/long-term goals and aiming to change an entire culture and industry.
Sinek paints this perfectly through his example when he spoke at Microsoft and then Apple. At Microsoft, everyone approached him on how much better their products were compared to Apple. At Apple, they approached him to tell him how excited they were about a product that would change the entire teaching industry. Microsoft had finite goals. Apple played the infinite game, made to outlive anyone working today.
We saw how much the finite game affected Wells Fargo when they were embroiled in scandal for opening fake credit accounts to meet demands. They pressured their bankers for quick profit so much that they felt they had to cut corners and compromise their integrity. The finite goal of quick sales overpowered their greatest purpose: to provide value to customers (no customer, no business). Wells Fargo paid heavy costs in fines and decreased value in shares.
After 9/11, Victorinox was in trouble. Their best-selling product, the Swiss Army Knife, accounted for 80% of their sales. The knife was famous for traveling and its ease of mobility. After travel restrictions and security concerns banned items like these, their product became virtually irrelevant overnight.
A finite company would immediately layoff staff, promote the product, cut costs, and find ways to defend their flagship symbol. But reemphasized by what the CEO said, “We think in generations,” they played the infinite game. They played the offense and invested in travel gear and products. They did so well that now their knife is only 35% of their sales and the rest is on these new products. They used this obstacle to create opportunities. They thought further than long-term goals and played the infinite game that would last generations.
What’s the first step to defining who you are in the infinite game? Think bigger. For example, when aviation became accessible, many railroad companies in the USA went bankrupt or significantly shrunk. These were some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. Why did they fail? They saw themselves as a railroad company instead of a company that transports people. If they had a bigger view of themselves, they would’ve invested in opportunities to transport an entire nation.
What are some opportunities in your workplace that’s bigger than you? How can your business play the infinite game? What would you recommend leaders do to start?