There is great wisdom in realizing both the brevity and the longevity of life. Most people understand that that you don’t get to live forever, We’ve even created a sub-culture around the phrase YOLO — you only live once.
We look at the brevity of life and determine that action must be imminent. We rush and try to cram as much as possible into the short number of days we have left.
But at the same time, there is wisdom in living and understanding that you will likely get more days than just tomorrow. Some things simply take time and the best move is to show up, day in and day out, with concentrated effort. There is such a thing as a marathon mentality that embraces delayed gratification.
This is especially true if you are committed to playing in what Simon Sinek calls The Infinite Game.
Sinek recently came out with a book under this title. In it, he looks at why most businesses tend to fail. He concludes that the majority of the time, the primary reason entrepreneurs tend to lose is because they have neglected the infinite game in favor of smaller, more finite games.
“According to a study by McKinsey, the average life span of a S&P 500 company has dropped over forty years since the 1950’s, from an average of sixty-one years to less than eighteen years today.”
Sinek points out that even if a company is successful at the start, entrepreneurs, on average, aren’t building things that are lasting. The average lifespan of a company has dropped considerably from 61 years to less than 18 years in our business world today. The bottom line is — more entrepreneurs are failing far faster than they did just a few decades ago.
If you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to start considering what your Infinite Game is. You have to be willing to think beyond the next quarter and start thinking about the next generation.
What is the Infinite Game?
Most entrepreneurs get sucked into finite games, goals, or tasks. After enough time, a consistent focus on the finite game will inhibit your creativity, lower your standards, and elevate your win-at-all-costs mentality.
You have to keep your mind focused on your Infinite Game.
An Infinite Game is driven by a just cause. It’s driven by a mission statement that is bigger than any one person, any one product, or even any one goal.
Sinek describes a just cause this way:
“A just cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist; a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision.”
In the infinite game, an entrepreneur identifies a just cause and drives his or her life towards it. The entrepreneur motivates their team, designs their products, and creates an long-term arc around a vision that serves people in a tangible and specific way.
If you don’t have this just cause, you will eventually get sucked back into the finite game. Having a just cause can help an entrepreneur make decisions understanding that they are not working for a certain title, position, a certain profit margin, or stock price.
If you need proof for how failing to identify your just cause can derail an entrepreneur, take one of the most entrepreneurial organizations of the last century — NASA.
In the early 1960s, NASA set out the goal of getting to the moon before the end of the 60s. As audacious as that goal was, it was simply that — a goal. It was not a just cause.
We all know that NASA eventually did put a man on the moon in 1969. They accomplished their goal, but they failed to prepare for lasting, generational impact. That is why they have slowly declined over the last five decades, ending with the close of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Build your Disneyland
If you have a just cause and you are willing to build your entire entrepreneurial venture around it, you’ll have some hard decisions to make along the way.
Building your business around your just cause means that you need to value people over profit. It means that you work hard to create an environment where you can “feel inspired every morning, safe when you are at work and fulfilled at the end of each day.”
That is the mentality of someone who plays the Infinite Game.
In order to be infinite, entrepreneurs must be willing to look beyond their immediate circumstances towards the unknown.
Doing something that you are good at but doesn’t serve your just cause is not success. It is passivity. You can be great and not alive. You can be rich and miserable.
Take Walt Disney for example.
Sinek points out that Disney had a just cause to inspire people with creative storytelling. He pioneered some of the most successful and, at the time, stunning advancements in film. But in the early 1950s, Disney was heading a very successful studio company and he felt like he was slipping away from his just cause — leaning more towards the finite game than the infinite.
So he changed gears, almost completely. He began to architect a new vision of a magnificent, story-driven theme park. In 1954, he went on to open Disneyland in California.
Many see Disney today as an epitome of a successful, industry-shaping entrepreneur. But fewer know the ins and outs of how Disney got to that titanic level. He did it by playing the Infinite Game.
Discovering your Infinite Game
As I read Sinek’s book, I realized I was personally headed for a quagmire of finite games. Professionally, I had been angling my career growth towards reaching a certain title. In my personal entrepreneurial ventures, I had started to let metrics and fiscal outcomes to creep into my vision and trajectory moving forward.
I needed to come back around defining my just cause. I needed to wrap my head around the Infinite Game I was playing. To do so, I asked myself these questions:
- What do I want to be for? What do I feel optimistic about in the future?
- Who or what kind of people would I like to be involved with in business in twenty years? Is my vision inclusive of those people?
- How can I match my skills with a tangible need?
- Is my vision resilient or is it dependent on a precocious circumstance or environment (can it be easily changed?)
- Will I one day be able to realistically accomplish this vision on my own? If so, I need to think bigger.
But most importantly, I asked myself this question:
Is my vision able to be carried beyond me to the next generation?
When we get caught up with finite games, we become short-sighted. We begin to lose our ability to prioritize and see beyond the immediate impact. That is when most entrepreneurs begin to fail.
At the end of his book, Sinek writes, “none of us want on our tombstones the last balance in our bank account.” I believe he’s right. I believe that what we really want is to know that our years on Earth mattered.
As an entrepreneur, you want your hyphen to matter. The hyphen is that single character that goes between the year that you were born and the year that you will pass away.
If you play the Infinite Game, your hyphen will connect with someone else. With many other people. And your legacy will go far beyond you. Those connections are where you find the greatest examples of success.
About the Author
This submitted article was written by Jake Daghe, a business writer and creative engineer. See more of his work here.