Jim Akagi | Renton Washington

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Marketing & Sinek’s Infinite Game

the 5 ingredients to successful infinite game play | principles to apply to your marketing

I’ve been reading a lot of books on leadership, branding, marketing, advertising, Google Analytics, etc. To get even more out of my reading, I always try to connect these subjects in some way to both my professional and personal lives.

One book that’s having a tremendous impact on my professional life is Simon Sinek’s “The Infinite Game.” If you can achieve better and clearer understanding, and can arrive at a place for a more effective and meaningful professional life, I argue it can still be tied, interwoven even, into marketing, too.

The concept that really resonates with me is Sinek’s “Just Cause” principle of being a great player in an infinite game. If you can focus on your individual “Just Cause,” define it and somehow succinctly and simply state it, you can have a very powerful brand statement. Whether you’re marketing for a company you work for, or marketing yourself, these actions require a “brand” of sorts in order to reach clients or customers. I’m going to outline the other points of Sinek’s observations.

1) Just cause — More than your “why” or purpose, a just cause is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It’s the passion or hunger that burns inside and compels you to do what you do. Your just cause is what powers you to outlast your competitors. It propels you forward in the face of adversity and inspires you to persevere when you feel like giving up.

Organizations equipped to play in the infinite game advance a cause that people will sacrifice themselves to achieve. Using the United States as an example, Sinek explained that winning the revolutionary war wasn’t enough. The country’s founders committed to an ideal vision of the future. In the infinite game, companies are always moving towards their higher vision. Here’s the rub ─ they never get there.

“A just cause is an ideal vision of the future you’ve committed your products, company and future to,” said Sinek. “America still is trying to provide that ideal that all people are created equal…We’re making steps towards that ideal vision of the future that does not yet exist. It’s the same in business. You can tell [which] companies offer something bigger than the products they sell. We make sacrifices, take frequent business trips, work long hours. Sometimes, we can make more money elsewhere, but would rather stay here because it feels worth it.”

2) Trusting Teams — Sinek says being a vulnerable team doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for everyone to walk around crying. It means you’ve invested the time and energy to build a culture in your organization where people feel safe to be themselves. They can admit they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. They can take appropriate risks without fear of retribution or retaliation. If your people don’t feel safe, that’s your fault, not theirs.

According to Sinek, the reason 99% of the time employees don’t meet performance standards is because leadership hasn’t created a trusted environment. He cited his personal experiences talking with a barista at a hotel who genuinely loved one of his jobs because of the positive managerial support. But this worker viewed his other job at a casino as merely collecting a paycheck, because management didn’t treat him as a trusted team member.

“When they work on trusting teams, people feel like their leaders have their backs,” said Sinek. “A leader’s job is to create an environment where trust can thrive. That someone can come to work and feel safe raising their hand and saying I made a mistake…or I need training… without fear of being put on the short list for layoffs. If you don’t have trusting teams, you have groups of people…not asking for help for fear it will hurt their promotability. Eventually things break.”

3) Worthy Opponent — In the infinite game, adversaries are acknowledged and treated with respect, but our success or failure isn’t measured against them. Ultimately, we’re competing against ourselves, and our success or failure should be measured against our own just cause. Our adversaries may push us to improve our products, services, marketing, etc., but in the infinite game, we’re constantly striving to become a better version of ourselves in order to fulfill our just cause.

There’s nothing more motivating than a worthy competitor, provided we use our admiration of them to fuel our own continuous improvement. Sinek talked about being on stage with someone he considered a major rival. The eye-opening moment for Sinek was when he introduced his rival by saying “you make me feel insecure. All of your strengths are all of my weaknesses. He turned to me and said, funny, I feel the same about you.”

Sinek realized his rival’s strengths revealed his own weaknesses. However, in the infinite game, trying to beat competitors is a waste of resources. Companies need to admire their worthy rivals, and constantly improve to stay in the game.

4) Existential Flexibility — Too many organizations pursue a variable cause with a fixed strategy, Sinek theorizes, rather than pursuing a fixed cause with a variable strategy. Having an open playbook means leaders and organizations are willing to have flexible strategies and plans that change as needed to pursue their just cause. An open playbook also means you’re transparent with your strategies, so all members of the team can literally be on the same page. Leaders resist being too transparent with information because they fear losing control. They distrust how people will use that information so they play it close to the vest. That only results in people making sub-optimal decisions because they don’t know all the plays in the playbook.

Instead of protecting their company’s current business model, Sinek advised leaders to have existential flexibility. No matter how much they’ve invested in going down a certain path, they need to cultivate an openness towards a better future.

“If you’re not willing to blow up your own company, the market will blow it up for you,” said Sinek. “Companies think about flexibility, but it’s often defensive, not offensive. Be willing to make a profound strategic shift, and [take a] short-term loss, to stay in game. If you have a just cause and trusting teams…people will understand why you’re doing it and agree.”

5) Courage to Lead — Playing the infinite game requires leaders to prioritize the just cause above anything else. They’re willing to stand up to the pressures of the Board, Wall Street, or popular sentiment, and stay true to their cause. This struggle is often too great for a single person to tackle alone, so it requires all the leaders of the organization to band together and act in alignment.

Sinek likened the infinite mindset to going to the gym. Once people reach their goal, they can’t stop going.

“Leadership is like a lifestyle…to release the passion in the people who are in our charge,” he said. “It takes unbelievable courage to completely change the way we see the world…If we can learn to embrace infinite mindsets, not only have we increased and enhanced innovation, seen trust and cooperation thrive, but we’ll actually love our jobs…At the end of our life we’ll look back and say I was a part of something bigger than myself.”

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