This week, the blog remains in David’s capable hands as he shares some of the insight and inspiration he gained from seeing Simon Sinek live.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Simon Sinek. The fact that he’s been referenced several times on the blog is just one of the ways that his influence pours into my life. So when I found out he was speaking at the How To: Academy in London, I just had to attend.
Sinek is a master storyteller, and his talk about his forthcoming book, The Infinite Game is no exception. In the talk, he manages to weave wonderful stories of personal experience and the stuff of business legend into his overarching message: “we have to change the way we lead.”
Referencing Professor James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games, Sinek explains that business leaders have been playing by the wrong rules for too long. He posits finite games, where you play to win, exhausting players and resources along the way, against the idea of an infinite game, where the goal is not to win but to stay in the game.
Sinek explains there is no way you can ‘win’ at marriage, friendship or politics, just as it’s impossible to ‘win’ at business. And yet, executives have long used terms such as ‘being the best’ and ‘beating the competition’ when leading. The infinite game is all about constant improvement, rather than constant striving, which exhausts both people and resources very quickly.
But how do you play an infinite game? What are the rules? Sinek shares the five steps you need to take…
1. Have a just cause
This can also be thought of as your ‘Why’. Sinek’s bestselling book Start With Why details the importance of a cause. This is the thing that gets you up in the morning, that gives you the fuel to work extra hours even though its tough. It’s what makes everything worth it. Pound notes and dollar bills won’t cut it. They are just the result.
Don’t yet have your ‘Why’? It’s imperative that you find it! It will drive you and help you to get back on track when you are lost. And it doesn’t have to be completely your own, Sinek advocates joining other people’s if you feel they are just. Some examples of a ‘Why’:
To create a better everyday life for the many people – IKEA
To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy – Tesla
Ideas worth spreading – TED
Sinek’s vision is a world in which people wake up happy and are fulfilled by work. He knows he’ll never really get there, but he says he’ll die trying. That, dear readers, is a just cause.
2. Have trusting teams
Sinek explains that business leaders often ask him how to squeeze the most out of their staff. Instead, he argues, we should ask how to create an environment that allows our staff to thrive. Staff must feel safe, be prioritised over profit and feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes and most importantly having control. Agency is everything, and when it’s in place both customers and company benefit.
3. Have a worthy rival
In a delightfully vulnerable way, Sinek shares a story of one of his adversaries. A person who is incredibly good at what they do, and seems to have strength where Sinek experiences weakness. Honestly and relatably, Sinek admits to hating this person! However, in a charming twist, Sinek tells the story of when the pair were asked to introduce each other at an event.
Sinek started by saying that this person made him incredibly insecure, highlighting his shortcomings. The rival broke into a knowing smile, saying that Sinek made him feel exactly the same. Ever since, they have been fantastic friends and Sinek is grateful to have someone who continually spurs him on to improve. But it’s not about competition, it’s a tool for bettering yourself, and one that is vital for the infinite game.
4. Have the capacity for existential flexibility
This is a tricky one. Through sharing stories from Kodak founder, George Eastman, to Apple visionary, Steve Jobs, Sinek shows that sometimes we have to radically change our business if we want to achieve our vision.
An example of this was when Steve Jobs was introduced to a new technology at Xerox PARC called a graphical user interface. Investing in it would not only be expensive, it would mean changing Apple’s direction and abandoning millions that they had already spent on R&D. But Jobs knew it was vital in helping him achieve his just cause, and so the Macintosh was born, changing the landscape of personal computing forever. In short, sometimes you have to be flexible. It’s never easy, but it’s always necessary.
5. Have the courage to lead
All of the above require immense bravery. And Sinek realises that. Society is built around the finite, so the shift to the infinite can be met with resistance. Whether from families or the market, the infinite game is often challenged. And standing up to challenge is scary.
As is facing the reality of risk-taking and change. However, if you can take the plunge you might just be one step closer to helping not just your vision, but Sinek’s: “a world in which you wake up happy, fulfilled by the work you do.”
Watch the whole talk here and watch out for Sinek’s book, which is due out in June.
Company mission statements found here.
Until next time!