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The infinite games we play

After Liverpool’s recent 5-0 victory over arch-rival Manchester United, I couldn’t help thinking about Simon Sinek’s inspiring talk at the recent Global Leadership Summit – the Finite vs Infinite Game.

Sinek argues that in a finite game there is a clear winner: a goal with a beginning, middle and end. When you win the match the goal is achieved and you move on to the next match, only to start another finite game. We use many sport analogies in business, and this one really made me think. Sinek argues that in business we should play the infinite game: play against yourself and continuously aim to improve and become a better version of yourself. There is a bigger cause and purpose than playing to win every match or competing for every client.

Sinek goes on to talk about having worthy rivals. Think about Manchester United vs Liverpool, the All Blacks vs the Springboks, the magnificent rivalry between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, Western Province vs the Bulls, Messi vs Ronaldo, Pele vs Maradona or Hamilton vs Verstappen. The list continues. These sporting rivals have entertained us for decades. Yes, we may suffer because of the 0-5 defeat against Liverpool or the humiliating 15-57 Springboks defeat against the All Blacks in 2016. However, these long-term rivalries are what bring spectators back to games, with rivals becoming stronger every time they play. The unforgettable matches and competitions are the finite result. It is the infinite, long-term growth and performance of teams and athletes that make them successful.

Herein lies the lesson for our corporate rivals. If you compete for a finite achievement, you will be caught in a cycle of short-term gain with no long-term shareholder growth. Look at any stock exchange. There are no straight, upward lines for any company. Yes, the most successful companies have an upward trajectory. However, this trajectory is marked by many ups and downs in the infinite game they play. Look at Coca-Cola vs Pepsi, Mercedes Benz vs BMW, Samsung vs Apple, P&G vs Unilever or McDonalds vs Burger King. These are worthy rivals playing an infinite game while pushing each other to be better.

Organisations need to realise that we are in this for the long haul. Competing against ourselves, outperforming our past achievements or competing against competitors in the short-term is finite. An organisation’s sustainability is about an infinite outcome. It is about outlasting rather than beating your competitor. This means having stretch targets, pushing your capacity and capabilities to a new level each year and becoming stronger, fitter and faster – and having fun while doing this alongside your biggest infinite competitors.

As a final thought, maybe there is a life lesson here too. We live an infinite life that we cannot win. Instead, we should focus on growing and learning every day to become better versions of ourselves…a better life competitor.

Long live our fierce rivalries in this infinite game of sports, business and life!

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