Every single bankruptcy happens because the company ran out of the resources or will to play so they drop out of the game.  But the game itself will persist and another company will fill their space because it’s not like the business stops or that the industry ends. And the people that play the infinite game will frustrate companies that are playing the finite game. This is a quote from the book ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek.

Infinite game and the finite game

In a TED talk by Simon Sinek, he speaks about how game theory influences leadership and modern companies. In game theory there are two main types of games, finite and infinite games. Let’s start by defining the differences between the two.

A finite game is played to win. It is a game with known players, fixed rules and an agreed upon objective. For example a sport like soccer: we all agreed to the rules, we all know who scored the most goals at the end of 90 minutes wins. No one ever says ’Let’s play an extra 45 minutes because I know we can come back!’ That just does not happen, the game ends.

An infinite game is played with known and unknown player, the rules are changeable and the objective is to keep the game in play, to perpetuate the game. The infinite game will keep going until one of the players no longer has the will or the resources to keep playing.

Companies that play different games

Simon Sinek, the creator of this idea, spoke at two different major technology companies and out of respect for both companies I will name them Company 1 and Company 2. 80% of the executives at Company 1 spent most of their presentation on how to beat company 2, their competitor. Over at Company 2, 100% of the executives spent 100% of their presentation on how to help teachers teach, and how they could help students learn. One was obsessed with their journey, with their cause, and the other is obsessed with their competitor. Guess who is frustrated with their competitor? Company 1.

At the end of the presentation at Company 1 they gave Simon the new audio player that they created and it was amazing. Very logical in its use, intuitive and beautifully designed. Now at the end of the talk for Company 2, Simon shared a cab with one of the senior executives and he told the executive about this amazing new audio player and stated that it is much better than theirs. The only thing that the executive said was: ‘’I have no doubt.’’ Conversation over. Because the infinite player understands that sometimes your product is better and sometimes it is not. Sometimes you are ahead and sometimes you are behind. The goal is not to beat your competitor, the goal is to outlast your competitor.

infinite game symbol

The difference of being an infinite player

You will see that the infinite player does not compete against others, they compete against themselves. Finite players wake up every single day trying to beat their competitor. However, the infinite player wakes up says ”How can we be a better version of ourselves? How can we improve our metrics how can we make our products better than they were last week?”

It’s fine to study the competition tactically, but the number of companies that study their competitors strategically blows my mind. They look at what their competition is doing and they make sudden sharp left or right turns to change the course of their company based on what the
competition is doing. That is what wastes resources. The constant changing direction, the constant changing of your mind wastes resources.

Written by: Sam Lucas

Original TED Talk: