For the month of April we read the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. For those who have no idea who Simon Sinek is, you’ve likely seen some clip of him speaking about business practices, ethics, etc. somewhere on the Internet: TED, Youtube, Facebook, etc. and if you, like me, have found these presentations meaningful (this is my personal favorite), you probably also felt excited to read this book.
So let’s start with the good: the principles of this book deeply resonate with me. Fundamentally, he is pushing back on the purpose of organizations: do we live to serve our shareholders (who are effectively “renters” of our organization), or to serve a bigger purpose (our customers needs, connecting people, helping the world, etc.) His point is that companies who play “the infinite game”–a long term strategy aligned to that greater purpose the company serves will make wiser long term decisions, which ultimately will accrue greater value than those who play to the market dynamics alone (whom he calls “finite” players). He gives great examples, and I found myself nodding along.
Another point he mentions are that companies who are more aligned to long term value tend to have more engaged employees (most of us want to work on something that is GOOD for the world, not just good for our shareholders), make better ethical choices, and have fewer incidents of questionable behavior (fraud, misuse of data, etc.) because they won’t suffer from the same “ethical fading” in which organizations without a clear purpose (above making money for investors) may find themselves.
But, here is where he could have cited research and helped us disambiguate between his opinions/observations and what the science tells us. In my mind, that is the biggest issue I had with this book. When we sat down to discuss it at Book Club, Dr. J Metz reminded me of “Gell-Man amnesia” a term coined by Professor Murray Gell-Mann and popularized by Michael Crichton (yes author of Jurassic Park, etc. etc.) that basically shows that we read a piece of garbage and if we know the subject, we will pick it apart, but if we don’t know the subject AND we agree with the statements, we will somehow forget that the source is the same as the previous piece of said garbage–that “amnesia” when you are biased to believe is the issue. Basically: we believe what we want to believe, and are only naturally skeptical if we DON’T already believe it, which isn’t a good way to learn (it is a great way to reinforce bias). We HAVE to force ourselves to be critical regardless of our bias, review our sources, etc. if we want to be life-long learners, and not subject to our own echo chambers (a problem often cited in these days of social-media influenced news).
All that said, I really loved these quotations from the book:
- “Leaders are not responsible for the results, leaders are responsible for the people who are responsible for the results. And the best way to drive performance in an organization is to create an environment in which information can flow freely, mistakes can be highlighted and help can be offered and received.”
- “To ask, “What’s best for me?” is finite thinking. To ask, “What’s best for us?” is infinite thinking.”
- “The ability to succeed is not what makes someone a leader. Exhibiting the qualities of leadership is what makes someone an effective leader. Qualities like honesty, integrity, courage, resiliency, perseverance, judgment and decisiveness,”
- “One of the primary jobs of any leader is to make new leaders. To help grow the kind of leaders who know how to build organizations equipped for the Infinite Game.”
- “When leaders are willing to prioritize trust over performance, performance almost always follows.”
I think listening to this as a lecture and thinking about how you would integrate the messages into your personal leadership style, or your framing for your company’s mission is useful. I just think there are more meaningful books that walk through the psychology of WHY his points resonate. Specifically the value of serving a just case, having a worthy rivalry to inspire your best work, building trust with teams (great work by Amy Edmonson on the value of psychological safety) and maintaining a strong ethical basis for your business decisions to have fewer issues associated with ethical fading (I would have LOVED to see the research on this because I want to believe it).
Anyway, no regrets that I read this, but gosh it could have been so much MORE impactful and not reinforced the “business guru with no hard facts” stereotype through some really simple citations to sources that are from credible publications and not business-sponsored.