Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the (Finite) Game

Simon Sinek’s new book, The Infinite Game, is coming out in mid-2019 and he recently sat with Cal Fussman to discuss the big concepts. Sinek explores the way we personally, professionally, and institutionally approach games that can be won (i.e. sports, bets, aka “finite games”), and those that can’t (i.e. marriage, free trade, aka “infinite games”).


Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of needless destruction that happens when we play infinite games with finite strategies. Sinek’s research has found three predictable outcomes we can expect from operating this way:

1. A Decline in trust 

2. A Decline in cooperation

3. A Decline in innovation


In terms of a business transaction, crushing the opposition on the terms of a deal for a “win” will damage future trust, future cooperation, and perhaps most interestingly, future innovation. To little surprise, the year-end bonus or the management driven “we need this win” can often be shortsighted. The next interaction will be much more guarded, protected, and potentially vicious. Finite begets finite. Conversely, in a business transaction where the opposition comes together to find the proverbial win-win, future trust, cooperation, and innovation can all be elevated. Infinite begets infinite. 


Sinek argues that the mindset of not seeking wins and losses over opponents but understanding relative positional changes over time can dramatically impact long-term results. Instead of winning or losing a deal, what if we’re better or worse relative to where we were prior to the deal? What if our ambition is not to triumph, but to improve the station of ourselves and whoever is across the table for whatever transaction comes next?


A “finite” mindset can dramatically expand the range of negative scenarios we may be exposed to, while an “infinite” mindset can dramatically expand the range of positive outcomes we may be exposed to. This holds at the personal, professional, and institutional levels. Finite and infinite games are an old and simple concept, but these are healthy reminders as we think about the long-term relationships we are all in the business of building.