The Infinite Game, A Review

An acquaintance recently suggested I read The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek. He said it changed his whole outlook on business and life.

I found the book to be … okay.

However, it did raise an issue that I’ve been mulling over for a couple weeks.

The concept underlying the book is pretty simple: There are two kinds of games you can play in business: finite and infinite. Finite games are less desirable because once you reach the objective the game is over. Conversely, infinite games are ideal because they inspire continual growth, health, and fulfillment.

Sinek illustrates the difference between finite and infinite games by comparing Microsoft to Apple. He had been invited to speak to each company within the space of a few months. He noticed the Microsoft team was obsessed with beating Apple (a finite game), while the Apple team was obsessed with helping teachers teach and helping students learn (an infinite game).

Side note: It’s funny how Microsoft is always the whipping boy for business gurus while Apple is always a shining city on a hill.

Anyway, to play an infinite game, Sinek says a company must have a Just Cause, like Apple’s desire to help teachers and students. Here’s how he defines it.

Again, a Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist. And in order for a Just Cause to provide direction for our work, to inspire us to sacrifice, and to endure not just in the present but for lifetimes beyond our own, it must meet five standards. Those who are unsure whether their purpose, mission or vision statement is a Just Cause or those interested in leading with a Just Cause can use these standards as a simple test.

A Just Cause must be:

  • For something—affirmative and optimistic
  • Inclusive—open to all those who would like to contribute
  • Service oriented—for the primary benefit of others
  • Resilient—able to endure political, technological and cultural change
  • Idealistic—big, bold and ultimately unachievable

All this sounds good—commerce for the betterment of the world. Who doesn’t want businesses to be focused less on profits and more on making the world a better place? It would seem the proliferation of B Corps and the glorification of companies like Patagonia for their ecoconscious production practices are proof that Sinek’s Just Cause is where it’s at.

The problem is, Sinek’s Just Cause is seriously flawed.

To prove my point, let’s take Marxism and evaluate it against Sinek’s “simple test”.

  1. Marxism is for something. True believers want to eradicate material inequity and make the world “fair” for all.
  2. Marxism is inclusive. One and all are welcome. In fact, many Marxists believe that their vision can only be realized if everyone joins in. Communism is in fact Marxism applied globally.
  3. Marxism is service oriented. Every single Marxist, Socialist, and Communist believes that what they are fighting for is for the benefit of all of mankind.
  4. Marxism is resilient. It has survived many political, technological, and cultural changes and has even survived its own repeated abject failures.
  5. Marxism is idealistic. Marx was an ideologue. Lenin was an ideologue. Mao was an ideologue. Most every Marxist I’ve ever encountered is idealistic to the point that reality holds no sway over their thinking. Even the garden variety lefty that wants more social programs is unapologetically idealistic in their vision for society.

So, according to Sinek, Marxism is a Just Cause. It’s just the sort of thing that he thinks you and I should embrace if we are to play his Infinite Game.

But tell that to the over 60 million people that were killed under Marxist-Communist regimes. Or tell it to the untold millions that were imprisoned, tortured, ostracized, and broken. Or, explain what a wonderful, infinite game Marxism is playing to the generations of people that lived under repressive, totalitarian Marxists governments, fearful that everything they said or did might land them at odds with the juggernaut state.

The problem with Sinek’s Just Cause is that it lacks an understanding of the concept of just.

For something to be just it must be morally right. It’s where we get the concept of justice; that something wrong is made right. But that right-ness must be based on what we all agree is good. For instance, if a con man swindled you out of a large sum of money, you would be right in demanding justice. That money was yours and the con man used deception to steal it from you. We’d all agree that he needs to be brought to heel and that the situation needs to be made right. We want to see justice, meaning we want you to get your money back and for the con man to be punished.

Why? Because we all hold a certain idea about the sanctity of personal property. (Sadly, even our understanding of personal property rights are eroding.)

What Sinek can’t address in his model is how we are to know if something is objectively good or objectively evil. He can’t do this because our society can’t agree on what constitutes good or evil. And because we can’t agree on these basic issues, Sinek can’t advocate for a specific kind of just-ness. He’s left with relativism. Your Just Cause just needs to be positive and somehow make the world better.

The reality is that one man’s idea of a better (or just) world is another’s nightmare.

If it were up to me, businesses would be dedicated to preserving the traditional family, upholding Judeo-Christian values, and creating space for people to do fulfilling work. Some reading this are nodding their heads in agreement. However, a number of readers will find that repulsive and are at this very moment looking for the “unsubscribe” link. (It’s at the bottom of this email.)

The relativism has gotten so bad that one of our Supreme Court Justices (someone tasked with making things morally right for the nation) can’t even answer the simple question, “What is a woman?”

If the highest, most powerful judge in the land can’t answer simple questions, how is it that business leaders are supposed to play an infinite game by committing to a Just Cause? All they have to go on is whatever seems right at the time—or whatever seems expedient to their bottom line. Do we want that? Do we want giant entities with deep financial and human resources doing what is right in their own eyes?

If you think I’m being a bit dramatic, consider for a moment companies like Open AI, Google, Meta, or Pfizer. All of these mega-corps tell themselves that their goal is to make the world a better place, that in essence they exist for the infinite game of a Just Cause.

I gotta be honest, I don’t trust them to do what is morally right. How could they? By what standard are they determining what is right and good for humanity? For me or for you? It would seem they take their cues from the UN, the WEF, and whatever progressive administration has their hand on the wheel at the time.

Sinek’s idea of business based on higher values and further-reaching purposes is laudable. But his book is missing the one thing that we need most in our present world: moral absolutes based on transcendent truth.

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