I have long been a fan of the global best selling author, speaker, and visionary thinker, Simon Sinek. Simon is an unshakeable optimist. He believes in a bright future, and in our ability to build it together.
We need that kind of optimism now more than ever. I believe his most recent book, The Infinite Game, is more compelling now than when he first wrote it.
In the book, Simon sets out why leaders who embrace an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative, and more inspiring organisations. That’s an important message, and one of the reasons why I was honoured to sit down with Simon for an exclusive session featured in our annual Dreamforce event.
Sujith Abraham: What do you mean by finite versus infinite games, and what is an infinite-minded leader?
Simon Sinek: A finite game is defined as having known players, fixed rules, and an agreed upon objective. There’s always a beginning, a middle, and an end. And if there’s a winner, there has to be a loser.
Infinite games, however, are defined as having known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to perpetuate the game for as long as possible. We play infinite games every day of our lives. However, leaders often don’t recognise the game they are playing.
There is no single winner in infinite games. Take the business world, for example. No single person, or company, ‘wins’ business. But so many leaders talk in terms of beating their competition and playing to win a game that has no finish line.
Finite-minded companies tend to suffer a decline in trust, cooperation, and innovation. Infinite-minded companies, on the other hand, typically outperform and out innovate their competitors.
Sujith: It seems to me that when we play with a finite mindset in an infinite game, we make decisions that sabotage our own ambitions. We may have quarterly metrics but are trying to deliver a long-term plan. What is your perspective on this?
Simon: This is a symptom of organisations that are competitor-focused rather than customer-focused. Finite-minded companies are obsessed with beating their competition. Infinite-minded companies are focused on their own vision, and how to get there.
For example, your company may have a better product than your competitor. But then your competitor innovates and releases a new product that makes all previous products — including yours — obsolete. This happens often in the tech space.
Succeeding is not about trying to beat your competitor. It’s about trying to out-do yourself. Finite-minded companies only think about what their competitors are doing. Infinite-minded companies innovate and change the game.
Sujith: At Salesforce, we talk to customers all the time that want to innovate and change their industries over the long term. How can companies create space to manage short-term pressures while they focus on the infinite game?
Simon: It comes down to leadership courage. Effective, infinite-minded leaders must have the courage to withstand short-term pressures while they stay focused on delivering their long-term vision.
This is not easy. Short-term pressure comes from many sources, maybe even from your own investors. Some shareholders will push you to make decisions that are good for short-term profits, but will hurt the company in the long-term.
Other shareholders will support you to do the right thing for the company, even when it may mean suffering short-term losses. This is the group you want to listen to and lean on.
Have the courage to tell the first group that they either believe in your team and your long-term vision, or they don’t. You want investors who are going to support your long-term vision.
Sujith: We all find ourselves in difficult times. Can you explain the distinction between building a company for stability versus building a company for resilience?
Simon: Stability and resilience are two very different things. Stable companies tend to be immobile. They are able to make it through difficult times, but they are just surviving. They tend not to innovate through challenges, and therefore don’t come out stronger.
Resilient companies have a different mindset. They are able to adapt and adjust to changing market conditions. They identify the residual value in their products or services. Then they find innovative methods to deliver them to their customers in ways that are relevant to the new conditions. That’s how resilient companies can come out of difficult times stronger than when they went in.
Sujith: At Salesforce, we often find ourselves helping organisations unlock information and drive entrepreneurialism. However, we find that when some organisations become stable, they get risk averse. Do you believe resilient companies are more risk prone?
Simon: Companies built for stability are typically more conservative because they don’t want to risk their stability. Finite-minded leaders tend to favour short-termism because they fear uncertainty. Companies built for stability often exercise control over very short time frames, and are less focused on their long-term vision.
Companies built for resilience, on the other hand, must be entrepreneurial by nature. They see opportunity in uncertainty, and find ways to adapt and prosper under new circumstances.
We’ve seen this played out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Finite-minded companies have a tendency to panic and retreat into self-preservation mode. However, infinite-minded companies stay focused on their customers. They embrace new technologies, new ways to sell, and new customer habits.
Sujith: On behalf of Salesforce, thank you Simon for joining us at Dreamforce. As always, your valuable insights cast new light on how we can build better businesses that embrace the opportunities of today, and tomorrow.
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