Know The Game That You're In: Business, An Infinite Walk

It's the start of a new year, and you’re in for a treat!

We have something special in stored that aims to change your mindset when thinking about business.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.” There are good reasons for that. So what if I told you, you’ve been seeing the game of business wrong all along? That for a long time you’ve been equipping yourself for the wrong battle, and bringing a knife to a gunfight?

If you are a business owner (or thinking of starting your own business), this series was created for you. By the end of it, you will have an entirely different understanding of business. Seeing for the first time, the secret missing ingredient in your enterprise and a gaining traction both inside and out.

In the coming weeks, we will be dissecting the theory of the Golden Circle, made famous in a TED sharing in 2009. Examining game-changing concepts from leadership expert Simon Sinek (or as he puts it, the ever learning student of leadership).

We will be walking from a holistic point of view and diving into various branches of application. Looking at how our whole concept of business has swayed us into making the wrong decisions and how to correct them. Helping build a fan-base for your company’s cause both internally and externally, and growing your business like never before.

Now lets get into this week's article.


Winning in Business

We’ve all heard this before, if not the exact words then perhaps an iteration of the same meaning or intention.

“Going in for the win.”

At some point, we’ve started associating “winning” with success or the end goal of the things we do. This is especially common in businesses, whereby one company tries to win over their competition.

Winning however, implies a game. And if you start examining the nature of business, you’ll begin to realize how you’ve been looking at the game all wrong.

If your current definition of “winning” in business, is simply to sell more than your competitors and be #1, then it’s almost as irrelevant and ridiculous as Charlie Sheen’s concept of “winning” when he experienced his public meltdown.

Finite Vs Infinite Game

All games can be placed into at least two categories, finite and infinite. A finite game as suggested by the term has an end, played for the purpose of winning. In a finite game, there are a defined number of players who all have to agree upon the rules of the game (how and what constitutes as a win etc.) in order to start.

An infinite game on the other hand is continuous. Since there is no definitive end, it is played with the purpose of continuation, where players may come and go. In this mode of play, change is the only constant and your goal as a player is to stay in the game.

Ask yourself: Which game are you in?

“Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.”
James Carse

The concept of business has been around for a long time.

While companies and brands come and go, the construct of business itself has stayed constant. And although a lot of companies talk about winning out their competition, there is no actual known parameter or agreed upon metric in which to measure a “Win”.

Indeed, there are many lists stating the top 10 or 100 grossing companies to look out for. And of course there are many awards and accolades for companies that usually takes place at the end of the year, but even these award boards don’t mean shit.

What’s most important is, even after these awards attainments, the game of business continues on. So when looking at the individual qualities of business, it is more similar to an infinite game than a finite one.

But why should you care?

According to game theory, the way we see and understand the game can change our behavior towards it. It’s like the difference between playing street basketball (3 on 3) and standard basketball (5 on 5). The strategies that would lead you to win in a 3 on 3 match may not apply when you are playing a 5 on 5 match and vice versa.

The same applies to business. By knowing the nature of the game, you are more informed to make the decisions to navigate around and excel in it.

Player Strategy

If you look at the two types of games and players, you may consider them as two main schools of thought. While the two seem like polar opposites, they are actually able to coexist within each other.

An analogy Simon Sinek uses is this: your first name is like the finite game, there is a definite start and end. Your surname on the other hand represents the infinite game, it is a legacy that can live on regardless of you. This is also observed in reality, infinite games are consisted of multiple finite games.

There is no problem when placing a finite player in a finite game. Nor is there an issue when an infinite player is placed in an infinite game.

The frustration occurs however when the nature of the player and the game does not align. You cannot get an infinite player to genuinely play a finite game as they do not live for the “win” thus are not motivated to take the actions for a snappy result.

Similarly, a finite player would find it very frustrating in an infinite game. For finite players thrive for a win or beat out which is nonexistent, so their way of navigating around the game becomes very draining in the long run, eventually leading to a burnout.

So how does a finite and infinite player differ and what are the implications when applying their mentalities to your business?

Finite Vs Infinite Player

Since the finite game is defined by its rules, a finite player is restricted by boundaries. Don’t misunderstand, they can excel at operating within the boundaries but there is ultimately a confine in which they cannot cross.

On the other hand, an infinite player understands the necessity for change. That is different say from someone who changes for the sake of changing. For an infinite player, change is inevitable in the quest of continued play.

As infinite players are playing for the sake of staying in the game, they are not defined by trips and falls at a certain period or time. Instead, these are taken simply as lessons in the greater scheme of things. Helping them build resistance to failure and proceeding further for their cause.

Finite players on the other hand, are more commonly seen aiming for the infallible and are usually more affected by their falls. Yes, this also means they are more effective and efficient in bringing along quick changes, but unsustainable in the long run.

Are you playing for the right game?

At the end of the day, you can choose to continue life and business looking whichever direction you so desire but every path does not yield the same result.

A way to think about this may be through the mentality of long distance and short distance runners. It will depress and affect you a lot more if you were to fall behind in the beginning for a second or two in a 100m race than in say a 20km race. And no, you cannot expect to sprint through everything and still make it to the end.

Therein lies the key of the matter.

Being an infinite player doesn’t mean you aren’t playing the finite games that come your way. Of course not, but instead of looking at the finite challenges as the be all and end all, they are treated as a stepping stone to advance you towards your vision.

Since you don’t consider the finite challenges as the ultimate summit, you are more flexible and agile in your thinking. Allowing you to let go of certain things and look at what's truly important.

The exact same can be applied to your business. If your vision is able to transcend the minor challenges that come your way, you will then be able of reaching for greater.

A mentor of mine used to say “pick your battles”. Back when I first heard it I thought she was telling me to choose wisely for the sake of winning. While I do believe that was part of the message, I now come to think that it’s more than that.

Pick your battles” embraces the idea that you cannot play nor win it all in life. That no matter how many battles you’ve already fought, there will still many more to come so don’t lose sight of your destination and choose only the battles that can push you towards your goal.

So here I am to share with you that same message, pick your battles, and pick them wisely. What is the cause you’re fighting for?