Tuesday, August 17, 2021

On the Coffee Table: Simon Sinek

Title: The Infinite Game
Author: Simon Sinek

via Amazon

According to Simon Sinek, an organization (or indeed, a person) is rooted in one of two mindsets: the finite or the infinite.  A finite game is one with set objectives within a given timeframe: a basketball game, for instance.  You win or you lose.  Everyone knows the rules.  The infinite game is open-ended.  The objectives are less tangible.  A youth basketball program seeking to bring a sense of purpose and belonging to its players and a sense of pride to the community is playing the infinite game.  As the title of his book suggests, Sinek is advocating for the infinite mindset.

Sinek's primary focus is the corporate world.  A company, or a CEO, focused on increasing value for shareholders is playing the finite game.  On the other hand, one with a mission to improve the lives of customers and make the world a better place is playing the infinite game.  He gives numerous real world examples.  Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and Navy SEALs: infinite game.  Blockbuster Video: finite game.  

Worth noting, I find Four Seasons and Navy SEALs are always the poster children in these sorts of books, no matter the thesis.

It's inspiring and compelling stuff.  The trouble for me is I can't help thinking about work so I tried to think of it in terms of baseball instead.  New York Yankees: finite.  St. Louis Cardinals: infinite.  I'm delighted to elaborate for anyone who cares.  But I have to admit, Sinek inspired some healthy work thinking in the end.  I'm 20+ years into my teaching career.  These days, I play multiple roles within my professional community.  I'm not just the music teacher any more.  In fact, I've been more than that for a long time.  What's it all for?  What is my infinite vision for the work I do over the course of a day?  How does each of these roles serve the big picture?  I haven't arrived at exact answers yet but I find that line of thinking more inspiring than planning for the next concert, next curriculum unit or just trying to get through the blessed day/week/term/year.  I have to do all that stuff anyway.  But it's all more meaningful with a sense of broader purpose.

Entertaining though they might be, I feel there are inherent problems with this type of book.  Sinek has delineated too neatly.  Everything good is due to the infinite mindset, everything bad to the finite.  The world is more complicated than that.  My more cynical view: a book like Infinite Game serves as a pamphlet for a writer like Sinek.  Book royalties are great but the really money is on the corporate speaker tour.  

I am, however, convinced that Sinek means what he says.  He's given me a lot to think about as I start the new school year.


  1. I don't know. Sometimes you have to have a finite mindset to accomplish specific goals. In fact, I don't think you can play the infinite game without incorporating the finite game within it.
    Of course, I haven't read the book...

    1. Absolutely. In fact, he makes that point.

      Take my baseball analogy. The Yankees' mission is to win the World Series every year. The Cards' mission is to build an organization that is somehow always good if not always great and inspires the love and devotion of multiple generations over a decent portion of the Midwest.

      When things go wrong (or even when they're going right), the Yankees are seemingly always in panic mode. Dear God, what will we do if we don't win this year???!!! Everyone knows the Cardinals will simply carrying on being the Cardinals because why wouldn't they?

      But here's the thing: the Yankees HAVE won quite a lot of World Series: 27, far more than anyone else. And they, not the Cardinals, are the most respected (if resented) brand in the sport, if not all of American sports.

      But it's been a while since they won it all and their endless efforts to throw money at their problems always seem short-sighted. They would do well to come up with stronger long-term plans.

      The main reason I care: my Orioles are in the midst of a total overhaul. As a fan, I would rather see them build towards the Cardinals model than the Yankees model. Frankly, it's easier. And cheaper. And definitely healthier.