Are you building an organization to win or to last?

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At a recent How to: academy talk I had the pleasure of listening to Simon Sinek share his thinking from his latest book, outlining finite versus infinite players in organizations.

He started by explaining this concept in terms of games. Finite games being those which have a definite beginning and ending, and are bound by specific rules. Think of most games we’ve played as children: monopoly, scrabble, chess, game of life, where there are clear rules, a winner and an end to all.

Whereas infinite games do not have specific beginning or end points, and rather than having boundaries that constrain its players, infinite games have horizons that move with its players. The objective is to perpetuate the game. Think of games like Minecraft, where the aim isn’t to win but to simply exploring the world, building things and then maybe sharing them with others.

To put it simply, finite players are playing to win, but infinite players are playing to stay in the game. When we turn this thinking towards organizations it becomes interesting, does your organization want to win or stay in the game?

How many examples can you find of organizations you’ve worked in, or are working in, that tend to focus on the following; beating the competition or being no. 1 in our industry.

The risk with a finite approach to business, is there is no winning. You may ‘beat’ the competition one year but what happens next year, or in 10 years’ time? Businesses are ongoing, evolving and growing entities that might benefit more from considering an infinite perspective.

Simon Sinek shared a reflection he had from attending two recent education summits at Microsoft and at Apple. He reflected that Microsoft’s presentations focused mostly on how they could beat Apple, while all of Apple’s presentation centered on how they can help teachers teach, and how they can help students learn in order to create a lasting company that continues to grow throughout the years.

Infinite players understand that sometimes you are ahead and sometimes you are not. They don’t tend to compete against the competition instead they compete against themselves to advance themselves.

The question I was left with following this talk was “are we playing a finite game, or an infinite one? In our relationships or at work?” And how might a change in perspective of the game we are playing change how we grow our business and how we work together.

At work are we overly focused on the competition? What might it look like if we started just being the best that we can be. And can we get inspirations and ideas from companies in other industries to us to learn and grow our thinking.

In our relationships at work are we looking to win or continue to nurture and grow our relationships. How might this change our perspectives in how we build our teams, or grow our leaders?

How might you be able to challenge your thinking, that of your leaders or your business to think more about the infinite game versus the finite game?

Zara Bates, Head of Consulting and Training, Strengths Partnership