What is Finite and Infinite
To be clear, I am not the original author of this idea. However, I find this mindset incredibly powerful and potentially transformative for an organization to implement. Simon Sinek does a better job at explaining the idea of Finite vs Infinite Games, but I’ll explain it briefly to give it some context.
We can define finite games as: those with known players, known rules, for a known duration of time. An easy example for a finite game would be basketball. We know the player (team 1 vs team 2), the rules are clearly defined and managed by referees, and the game lasts for 4 quarters.
We can define infinite games as: those with unknown players, unknown rules, for an unknown duration of time. Again, this information I’m sharing to this point has come directly from Simon Sinek and his explanation of infinite games he even has a book. His examples are that there is no such thing as #1 in business, because in order to exclaim that you are going to use arbitrary rules and an arbitrary duration of time. However, business doesn’t operate on these rules or this timeline. In his opinion, it is the same as saying “I’m #1 at marriage” or “I’m #1 at friendship”. Those claims are so arbitrary and impossible to define, yet many think of business in the same finite mindset.
Why does this matter in your business?
The finite mindset is what a tremendous majority of the world uses to measure their success in the business community. Such things as “be #1 at selling X product”, “or meet the quarterly sales numbers”, or “increase gross revenues by X% during the next year”. You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, I am not seeing the problem with the examples given”. And I didn’t either until it was further explained. There are 3 primary issues with finite thinking in business:
- Business isn’t a finite game: Think about this. The players are unknown, the rules are unknown, and the time is unknown.
- Forcing a business to behave in a finite way only leads to employee burnout
- Finite thinking does not lead to innovation
Business isn’t finite
The players are unknown, the rules are unknown, and the time is unknown. Would you agree with this statement? If not, I’ll offer a few of my own examples to explain.
– The players are unknown Do you think the hotel/motel industry knew a business concept like AirBnB would actually threaten their business model? The hotel/motel industry never even considered this strategy to be an option and therefore it was unknown to them that there would even be competition from this model.
– The rules are unknown – Rewind 20-25 years ago and the only way to purchase a book was to get in the car, drive to the mall, and visit a bookstore. Then came Amazon. An online eCommerce store that allowed a person to purchase a book from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. It is obvious that the publishing industry considered their delivery system as the only method. Now, you will struggle to find these bookstores because the rules of the game have been drastically changed.
– Finite thinking doesn’t lead to innovation – This is an easy topic to discuss because there are so many examples of startup companies disrupting long-standing industries. Examples: Uber vs taxi industry, AirBnB vs hotel industry, Tesla vs. Auto Industry, Netflix vs. Movie Industry, Amazon vs. Publishing Industry, Apple vs. Smartphone Industry, Makerbot vs. 3D Printing Industry, Apple vs. Music Industry, Google vs. common research institutions, and the list can go on forever.
We are even seeing the next generation of disruptors challenge heavyweights like Apple, Google, and Netflix which further proves the players are unknown and the rules are unknown.
All of this to prove what?
The finite mindset is so naturally ingrained that very few are able to think infinitely. However, infinite thinking is what allows a company to be innovative, creative, flexible, and fun. And the best part is that the infinite mindset can be learned! The greatest detriment to your business that finite thinking has, is its effect on the employees. Finite thinking is focused on dates and numbers, rather than a mission and progress. People want to feel like they are impacting the world around them and hitting sales numbers or projections is not satisfying that need. I will give you one last general example to prove my point.
Scenario 1: ABC Company wants to expand its broadband infrastructure in their geographic region because it will enable them to expand their customer base by 35% and grow revenues by 50%. The project budget is $45 million dollars and expected completion will be in 4 years.
Scenario 2: DEF Company’s mission is to connect people through their internet service to empower people to explore education, business, and entertainment opportunities together. The company has a goal to connect up to 35% more people using their modern infrastructure so they can incorporate technology efficiencies in their business, explore online education at their schools, and improve their quality of life overall.
I understand the example is generic, however you see the difference in the words and message to the project team. The first has a strong focus on the goal being simply driven by numbers. It is unemotional, and does not inspire a project team in any manner. The second scenario is the complete opposite. The verbiage is very different and is generally more inspirational for the team members. My hypothesis would be that the DEF Company would experience greater success at a faster pace because their infinite mindset instills passion into their employees and therefore positively impacts their productivity.