Video: The Infinite Game: How to Lead in the 21st Century - Simon Sinek

December 22nd, 2020



anecdote: vietnam war

overwhelming victories for USA

lost the war



[ ] Book: Finite and Infinite Games - James Carcey

If you have at least one competitor, you have a game

Model: finite vs infinite games


When you play an infinite games, with finite rules.

You race through your recourses and will


infinite games:

  • marriage

  • friendships

  • global politics

  • business


When you play an infinite game with finite mindset

  • decline of trust

  • decline of cooperation

  • decline of innovation


anecdote: apple vs microsoft



Model: Leader for the infinite game

  1. just cause

  2. trusting teams

  3. worthy rival

  4. existential flexibility

  5. courage to lead



(1) Just cause

a just cause is purpose or cause that is so just

you would willingly sacrifice to be a part for it

willingly sacrifice:

  • higher pay

  • late hours

  • business trips

  • see family less

You may not like it, but it's worth it

it feels worth it



  • Apple: individuals should be able to stand up to big brother

  • USA equal in all rights, including life, liberty, pursuit of happiness


Quote: just cause

just causes are a description of a future state so ideal

that for all practical purposes we will never actually achieve that vision

but we will die trying


gives our lives and work meaning

not about achievement

every goal we hit, is a marker that we're making progress towards something bigger

it's about momentum, not about absolutes


metrics help us count speed and distance

progress re-energises


Quote: Vision

the reason we call it vision

is because you have to be able to see it


imagine a world that is different to the world we have now

that you believe that

if everything you did in your organisation went perfectly,

you would contribute to the building of that world


Simon's vision

I imagine a world in which the vast majority of people wake up every single morning inspired.

Feel safe at work

and return home, fulfilled, at the end of the day


Every job you have, should be contributing to the same vision


Model: Having vs finding a vision

we don't have to put pressure on ourselves to be visionary


there is a very small handful of people in our population who are visionary


eg. Steve Jobs, Richard Branson


We don't have to have a vision, we have to find a vision

If there is someone else's vision that gives us goosebumps

If there is someone else's vision that we say "that's the world I want to live in"


Martin Luther's "I have a dream"

If you want to live in that world, choose his

And devote your life and devote your career to helping build that vision in some way shape or form, even if it's only small steps



(2) trusting teams

anecdote: hotel four seasons

people say hello because they want to say hello

Noah the barista


How do I create an environment that my people will be at their natural best.


If we do not have trusting teams

what we do have is a group of people who show up to work every day

lying, hiding and faking


anecdote: United Airline passenger beat up

I feel sorry for every member of that crew

because 100% of them knew that that was the wrong thing to do

and did not intervene

because they feared getting in trouble more

than they feared doing the right thing

red flag: "why can't you talk to us like human beings"

Sir, if I don't follow the rules,

I could get in trouble or lose my job


circle of safety

trusting team

  • people feel like they have control and agency over their own jobs


anecdote: airconditioning request

everyone there is afraid to make a decision

nobody has any agency or control


and there is one thing we know about human beings

that our sense of enjoyment from our work does not come from work-life balance and how much yoga we do

our sense of enjoyment at work and the sense of stress we have

is all about our sense of control

that when we feel like we have control over our work we actually enjoy it more

and control is taken away from us, where we fear making any kind of decision what so ever, that is what increases stress dramatically



(3) worthy rival

he reminded me, he revealed to me

his very existence revealed to me my weaknesses

it was much easier to take that energy

and put it against someone than to admit to myself

that I've got some work to do


Quote: worthy rival

the only true competitor in an infinite game, is yourself

but what you have to have is a worthy rival

- someone who is better than you in your own industry

- or in another industry, who is better at something you do


and instead of hating them and trying to beat them and trying to outdo them

we learn from them, we admire them, we respect them


because by revealing to us our weaknesses,

it gives us tools to go back and see where we need to improve


the goal is not to beat them

the goal is to simply improve and stay in the game



people who you know, are better at your job than you


They are so good

they make me insecure they are so good

those are the people to admire


have rivals: it's another tool for constant improvement



(4) existential flexibility

finite game existential: game ends

infinite game existential: players end, game goes on


dramatic shift in strategy

because you find a better way to advance your cause


anecdote: apple visits xerox park

graphical user interface

We have to invest in this graphic user interface thing.

Steve, we can't, we've already invested millions of dollars and countless man hours in a completely different stategic direction, if we abandon that, we'll blow up our own company

Better we should blow it up, than someone else


Why would you abandon something that is working, for something that might not work?


To a person driven by a just cause, it's so easy for them to see

staying on the path they're on is the path that will lead to death

This decision is the obvious choice and the money means nothing.

Because it means survival and the ability to continue to thrive


anecdote: Kodak


if you are not willing to blow up your company

the market will blow it up for you




(5) courage to lead

everything before, is unbelievably difficult


all the pressures in our lives

- markets

- families

- incentive structures in our companies

are trying to force us to consider

- the finite

- the short term over the long term

- the profit before the people


profitability is important, but we have a bias towards people

> thought

> agile manifesto

> although we value the things on the left...

> people over profitability


it's much easier to have redundancies

rather that figure out how to protect them


anecdote: Walt Disney, animation ; Disneyland


The courage to lead, fundamentally means, you're willing to be open minded to consider that maybe, just maybe, the way you think the world works, may be wrong.

And the way we've been building our business based on all the social conventions and what everybody tells us are the right things to do, maybe is wrong

and just because everyone is doing it, does not mean it's right.


The vast majority of the business philosophies and practices that we practice today, are not norms of business.

They are recent, they come from the 70's and 80's

- shareholder supremacy

- mass layoffs

- rank and yank

- definition of responsibility of business "maximise profits within the bounds of the law"


anecdote: titanic


people are anti-capitalist now

capitalism we have, is not capitalism like Adam Smith envisioned it

[ ] Book: The Wealth of Nations

No! Our form of capitalism prioritizes

- people

- trust

- cooperation

- empathy

- maternal instinct

- longevity


long term or sustainable,

I don't use the word long-term,

20 years is long-term,

30 years is long-term.


> current quest 'learn to write adaptable software' 'sustainable software'

> maybe should look for 'infinite software'



What does it mean to live an infinite life?

lives are finite

life is infinite

we don't get to pick the game

but we do get to pick how we play

that is the only game we have


if we choose to live our lives in a finite mindset

we're playing to win

we're playing for someone else to lose

we're playing

- to advance our careers faster than anybody else

- to make more money than anybody else

we're comparing the scores constantly

we're slicing and dicing to show them to we're the best, we're number one

we get to make up the numbers and timeframes but it's really important to us that everybody thinks we're number one


you don't build trust that way, cooperation is hard to come by, innovation forget about it.


you'll be rich, and then when you die,

you don't get to take any of it with you

and we won't miss you

we'll forget your name

and your business will probably close right after you

> oh crap...

> "advance our careers faster than anybody else"

> "slicing and dicing to show I'm the best"

> ...that's me


Or we can choose to live our lives with an infinite mindset

which means we give

we give our businesses

a cause worth coming to work for


we give our families

a cause worth helping each other out for


we commit ourselves to being the leaders we wish we had

we commit ourselves to building circles of safety,

in which people feel safe and we trust each other

and we're willing to take risks and be vulnerable

to set the tone


because if we take care of each other this can outlast me


we're willing to have rivals

and be honest about our weaknesses

and admit that there are other people

who are much better at what we do than us

and we should learn from them


we're willing to make that massive shift

if we find a better way to advance our cause


and we will have the courage

to say to all the people that say we're crazy, idealistic:

"yeah, we are, I'll take my risk"


because that is fundamentally what the infinite mindset it

it's a code

for the idealists

to operate in a world

that is telling us we should be realistic

it's a code

for people who believe that

an unrealisable vision

that is worth devoting our lives to advance

is better than a short term goal


the choice

to live an infinite life,

means that we leave a legacy

it means that when we pass

others will pick up the torch

and continue without us


anecdote: Richard Brandson (Virgin brand)




(1) Question:

How to change the corporate world?

  • stories about heart-count vs head-count

  • never worked in any company that would have used that

  • is it rare to have the courage to lead?

  • is there momentum?


Model: heart-count vs head-count

Bob Chapman

everyone is someone's son and daughter

every time they make a decision:

I'm responsible for someone's son and someone's daughter

(ref: Book: Leaders eat last - Simon Sinek)


It is who Bob is


Question is 'we want more Bob Chapmans'


Quote: the first criteria to be a leader

The first criteria to be a leader is

you have to want to be one

-- George Flinn


anecdote: officer vs soldier


we don't want leaders who don't want to be leaders


Metaphor: leadership is like health

the education to become a leader

is a lifestyle,

it's like the choice to become healthy


at the early days it's usually a lot of heavy lifting at a steep learning curve

- I have to change the way I eat

- I have to go to the gym

I hate that


And then you get into shape

and you feel good

and you look good

and your doctor is very happy with you


And the worst part is,

once you get into shape,

you have to keep going to the gym

and eating healthy for the rest of your life


It's not something you do, achieve your goal and then stop

It's the choice to live a life that way

Even though there might have been a finite goal in the short term


Leadership is the same

it is a lifestyle

it is a muscle that requires constant exercise

and though

you may study all of the theory about leadership

and you may have been good at it at one time

if you don't keep it up the muscle will atrophy


The movement is going into the right direction


Quote: you can be a leader

If you work with someone to the left,

and you work with somebody to the right,

you can be a leader.

Leadership is the responsibility for those around us.

To see those around us rise.




(2) Question:

picking your rival as a challenger brand


Challenger brands: there is some sort of ideology that got them angry in the first place

their mere existence, keeps you honest about what your cause is


best thing that ever happened to the west was the soviet union

because it reminded us what we stood for


If you're a challenger brand

the most important thing is that

what you're standing up to is the ideology, not the company

because if you eventually get big

you haven't won

they just dropped out


the goal is not to beat them

the goal is to spread your gospel

and not theirs

it's a rival gospel



(3) Question:

What is a simple thing that we all could start to do



You cannot do existential flexibility without a just cause

and I would argue even trusting teams

because otherwise everyone is gonna panic

and think you're crazy


just cause and trusting teams are really bigger than the others


If there is one thing you can do it's

articulate what it's all for


What is the difference between just cause and why?

Model: Why vs Vision

The why comes from the past

it's who you are

it's why the organisation was founded

it's who you are as a human being

it's the thing that drives you

it is immutable

it will never change, no matter what happens in your life

it comes from looking backwards


a just cause comes from looking forwards

it is an unrealised future

that if your why were to be brought to life

in the most magical of ways

the world that would exist, would be this world


it is the dream

it is the fantasy

we call it vision because we can see it


so you have to be able to articulate

what this world looks like

in terms so clear

that other people go

"I can see it!"

"That sounds amazing!"

"Sign me up"



Challenge yourself

There is multiple ways to do it

  • If everything we did went perfectly, what would the world look like?

  • What will we commit our organisation to help build?

  • What will we commit our life to help build?


The path to building trusting teams, is the path to good leadership


Commit yourself to being the leader you wish you had



(4) Question:

The military shapes minds to put the most valuable thing on the line.

How can we create that not in a timeframe of years, but weeks or months?



The admiration I have for the military

is the exact same love and admiration

I have for artists.


Both undertook their paths,

knowing they would not get rich.

and felt like it was a calling

and were willing to sacrifice to advance this thing

and be a part of something


To me it's the same love


You and I have colleagues and coworkers

They have brothers and sisters


they may fight,

but you try and attack my brother or sister,

you gotta go through me


they love each others

- empathy

- love

- devotion


How do we do it in weeks and months?

That's like asking me

"how do I fall in love in weeks?"

instead of this whole

- getting to know them

- being vulnerable

It's a slow, ploddy process


Sometimes you get lucky,

and you have a meeting of the minds,

and you have shared values

and it goes a little quiker


there is no way to speed up


it takes more than a week, but if you've been doing something for 7 years and you don't love it, maybe it's wrong


Quote: building trust inside and organisation is like the way you fall in love

The way you build trust inside an organisation

is the exact same way you fall in love


You devote yourself to the care of another human being

sometimes at the sacrifice of your own interests


Listening is really easy

you make the other person feel heard


How to make a friend

How to fall in love


now go do all these things at work


When somebody walks into your office and goes

"ugh, fuck my day"


you go "What's happening?"

and you listen, so they feel heard

don't give them advice

don't fix anything

just listen


when they tell you how awful it is, say

"that sucks, tell me more"


The military doesn't do it in 13 weeks.

They create the foundation for it in 13 weeks

but it takes time for those relationships to truly form



(5) Question:

How does an infinite mindset, work in a company that is driven by finite leaders?


You can't change the mindset of people 2-3 levels above us

But adopting the infinite mindset is like preparing yourself


maintain your infinite mindset

but hone it

get good at it

practice leadership


don't worry about changing people's mind


be the leader for the people around you



(6) Question:

Schools have adopted a finite mindset


one of the problems with our schools:

we run our schools like we run our businesses


we become more obsessed with the metric than with the education or the child


the problem is that teachers don't feel taken care of

the leadership in school is a corporate leadership model

the headmasters are not obsessed with the care of the teachers


if you get that right, the teachers will take care of the students, don't worry about it


if you get that hierarchy right, it works just fine



(7) Question:

Organisation needs investment, vision is infinite.

Shareholders have a finite mindset and pressure us to take that.

  • What is your exit plan

  • When is this, when is that

They are playing a finite game against my infinite game


Do you own the company?

You took their money?

I got no problem with you looking for investors

But you took the number, more than the investor


You took the one

who offered you more money,

than you did from the person

who aligned to your values


You took the person

who is investing in the exit

rather than the one

who is investing in you and your vision


Berkshire Hatahway, does not sell the stocks it buys


Find money from someone who believes in you and your vision

and will give you the might

of their wealth of experience

and the people who work there

to advise you

rather than force you into the exit


Berkshire Hatahway, does not sell the stocks it buys


Find money from someone who believes in you and your vision

and will give you the might

of their wealth of experience

and the people who work there

to advise you

rather than force you into the exit



(8) Question:

What fosters courage?


Courage is an external thing


why did you do it?

because they would have done it for me


sense of "someone has my back"

gives me the courage to do something for them


professional tightrope walker trying a new stunt

it's not the ability that gave you the courage

it's the net


Quote: to live with a servant's heart

To live with a servant's heart

to be that empathetic leader

people start to believe

that you have their backs

that you would do something for them

that you would sacrifice your interests to protect them

and miraculously they will do it back


Quote: the only thing that makes you a leader

The only thing that makes you a leader

is that you're the one that went first

You're the one that took the risk first


anecdote: Israeli's

the unit that you train with when you're 16 years old

is the unit for the rest of your life


Quote: self-help

There is an entire section in the bookshop called self-help

There is no section in the bookshop called help-others


By ourselves, we're crap

We're just not that good by ourselves

We're not that strong, we're not that clever


But you get a team together

we can lift anything and solve any problem



(9) Question:

Well-being day, once a year.



Model: balance consistency and intensity

Metaphor: brushing your teeth

if you stop brushing your teeth

and only go to the dentist once a year


What does brushing your teeth for 2 minutes do?

It does nothing.

Unless you do it every single day


Metaphor: gym

you cannot go to the gym for 9 hours and get into shape


but if you work out every single day for 20 minutes

you'll absolutely get into shape


I just don't know when


companies like intensity because it's easy to measure


too many companies think they can solve a problem with intensity

I challenge them to consider the consistency stuff



(10) Question:

Where do you fail as a leader?


I succumb to fatigue

When I'm writing a book, I'm at my worst

too quick with decisions, I need to listen for a minute more


I am a spectacularly good listener

with people I will never see again for the rest of my life


But the people who are in my life, terrible!


So I had to learn to take the skills that I know,

but apply them to the people that I love

> damn, this is me



(11) Question:

Western vs Asian mentality.

How do you feel about the current environment worldly?


You mean how in the west we're trying to win and China has a thousand year plan?


Asia is playing an infinite game

They make plans for literally hundreds of years,

and we make plans for the next election cycle.


We have this thing in the west

where we like things we can easily understand

and don't like things we can't easily understand


Love is a tricky thing to understand,

but I know it exists

I don't have a metric for it

I can't measure it

But I know it's there


eastern philosophies embrace things we don't understand better than we do



(12) Question:

Achieving happiness on a day to day basis?

Demoralised by tedious tasks you're not interested in.



Model:seek joy instead of happiness

happiness comes when

you win the game

you get an A on our exam

your number comes up in the lottery

and then it goes away


joy is something more underlying


How do I have happiness on a day to day basis?

You don't


The things that you will do,

you will not necessarily enjoy.

but the question is,

do you have a sense that they are a part of something bigger?

That's where the value and the joy comes from


you don't get to like every day

but you do get to love every day


you don't like your children every day

but you love your children every day


we've created this unrealistic expectation

that every day at work has to be amazing


like every day of your relationship has to be amazing

and every day in your friendship has to be amazing


it's an unfair standard to put on a human being

it's an unfair standard to put on an organisation


Don't seek happiness

happiness will happen here and there

Seek joy

and that comes from

- relationships

- belonging

- cause



(12) Question:

How do you scale culture?

0-10 went well


Model: scale breaks things

fundamentally, scale breaks things


family < 25

organisations can be like a family

and then they hit about 25 people

and it starts to get really complicated

now you need structure and hierarchy

plus you're not all friends anymore


?? < 150

you can still all know everybody's name

you can still refer to people

you'll max out at about 150

and then it get's really complicated


Quote: humans aren't made for scale

scale just breaks things for human beings

we're just not made for it


the way you do it is with effective hierarchy

you should have an effective training program to teach leaders

and you should be considering somebody's leadership abilities, not just their results, when you're promoting people


there should be an opportunity to learn leadership, practice leadership, you should be teaching it


Model: School bus theory

What happens to your company

if tomorrow you get hit by a school bus?

Will it fold?

Or will it keep going?


What about:

It will absolutely keep going

because the cause is crystal clear

and everybody we hired believed in the cause


And even if they were the best qualified person,

because we suspected that they did not share

- our values,

- our beliefs

- and our cause

we did not hire them


There was someone who was toxic in the organisation

and we coached them andcoached them and coached them

and they proved to be un-coachable

And even though they were the highest performing in the organisation.

That salesperson sells more than anybody else

We made the difficult decision to ask them to leave

To go and find joy somewhere else

They are a good person

They are just a bad fit


Those are hard decision

and those are the kinds of decisions

that others see you making

that you actually do believe in your cause more than your growth plan


The infinite game, still includes finite games


Are you promoting your best performers

or are you promoting your best leaders?


And you better be teaching them how to lead, once you promote them.