Today, I am trying out a new kind of episode bringing you some big ideas. Even before I started doing the podcast, I read a lot and I still get asked about what books I recommend all the time. So I thought it could be fun to share the key ideas from books that have been very impactful to me. By me summarizing it, hopefully you will get a sense of some of the key ideas and know if the book is worth your time and energy to go deeper on.
There is no better place to start than with possibly my favorite leadership book of all time: “The Infinite Game,” by Simon Sinek.
Here’s the teaser: you probably aren’t playing the game you think you’re playing. Or at least not with the right mindset.
Enjoy, and let me know on Twitter what you think of this new episode format and what these ideas open up for you.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
- Send episode feedback on Twitter @askotzko, or via email
Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Skotzko 00:00:24 Hello, friends, and welcome back to another episode of Make Things That Matter. If it’s your first time here. This is the podcast where we explore the principles and the practices that are going to help you do meaningful work and have a great time doing it. Whether you’re building your first product or a whole new company, if you’re someone who lives from the ethos of trying to use your time to truly contribute things to the world, that actually make things better, then you’re in the right place. And I’m glad you’re here.
Andrew Skotzko 00:00:45 Now. This is another experimental episode. You may notice if you’re a longtime listener that I’m testing out a few different kinds of episode formats. In addition to our standard fare of long form interviews. Now, today, I wanted to bring you a new idea, a book review. Now, even before I started doing this podcast, I read a lot and I get asked about books all the time. So I thought it might be fun to review some of my favorite books that really have influenced my thinking on all things related to making things that matter in the world. And I thought there is no better place to start than with one of my absolute all time favorites, which is the infinite game by Simon Sinek. So a little bit about Simon Sinek. If you don’t know who he is, a what rock have you been living under?
Andrew Skotzko 00:01:24 Because you’re really good at vacations. And I need to learn from you. Simon Sinek is one of the most prolific leadership authors of the last, I would say decade. And the infinite game is his third book after start with why, which was sort of the mega bestseller that put him on the map and then leaders eat last. Now those are about first starting with your own sense of purpose and why and motivation. And then how do you build trusting teams and amazing groups of people to go fulfill on that purpose in the world? Now, this third book is really kind of an update on, in a much earlier book from the 1980s, I believe, which was a book called finite and infinite games written by a theologian named James Carsey. If I were to tell you why it’s probably worth listening to or what the hook would be, it would be that each of us is playing a different game than we realize we’re playing.
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:09 If you’re someone who’s ever felt like, I don’t know, there’s something wrong with the way we’re doing this in the world. You know, there’s something wrong with the way we’re doing business. For example, you’re probably an idealist like me. And one of the things that I love about this book is it’s kind of in a, in a sense, a very practical manual for frankly, how to survive as an idealist in the world. So the idea of the infinite game is that frankly, we’re all playing a different game than we think we’re playing. Now, what does that even mean? So in going back to that book from James Carsey, there’s two types of games in game theory, there’s finite games and infinite games. A finite game is a game that’s got known players, fixed rules and an agreed upon objective. So basketball, basketball is a finite game, right?
Andrew Skotzko 00:02:50 We know how the game is played. We agree on the rules. Whoever has the most points at the end wins, et cetera. Now, an infinite game on the other hand is totally different in an infinite game. There’s known and unknown players. The rules are constantly changing. People play the game, however they want. And frankly, there’s no defined criteria of winning. Uh, the infinite game is really about the journey and where this gets tricky is where not just people, but companies or countries even are playing a game with a wrong mindset for the game that they’re playing. Now, one of the classic examples of this is the Vietnam war in the Vietnam war, the United States playing as a finite game there, they were playing to win. They were trying to beat the Vietcong and win the war. The Vietnamese were fighting for their lives. It’s a totally different mindset.
Andrew Skotzko 00:03:36 They were never going to give up. So it’s just a completely different way to approach things. So let’s talk a little bit about this. And, and the real trick here is to the game that you’re in, right to know what kind of game you’re really playing. And the big insight of this book is that business is actually an infinite game. And we, the thing that’s weird about that is that we talk about business and companies building an organizational life, all the things we talked about in our careers, we talk about them like their finite games, you know, oh, we want to be the best we want to get market share, but all the rules are arbitrary. There’s this really, it’s a different mindset to play from. So there’s five factors, five things you need to play the game with an infinite mindset. And these five are first a Just Cause, two trusting teams, three Worthy Rivals, four Existential Flexibility and five, The Courage To Lead. now emphasize this is not like a step-by-step recipe.
Andrew Skotzko 00:04:28 Like, oh, I’m going to do number one. Then I’m gonna do number two. But these are really like the five pillars that constantly we need to be tending to in order to play the infinite game in this review, I’m going to zoom in on the Just Cause, Worthy Rivals and Existential Flexibility. If you want to go deeper, I highly recommend the full book, but for this one, I’m just going to focus on those three because I think they’re also the least well understood. One of the things I want to clarify before getting into it is one of the common questions that comes up about this idea is, wait a minute, what about all my goals? What about, you know, what about those finite games? Like my quarterly numbers or my goals for the year? What about those? Do I get rid of them? What do I do with them?
Andrew Skotzko 00:05:05 And the answer that you’re still gonna have those, but the difference is that now all those finite games are wrapped inside a much bigger context. The infinite game, that infinite mindset becomes the context that sort of is the umbrella making sense of everything underneath it. So you’re still gonna have finite games and goals and things like that. And that’s fine, but it’s a very different way. The experience of doing that is very different when it’s wrapped inside of what I’m gonna call an infinite container. A great example by the way of an infinite game is a relationship. There is no winning at relationship, right? There’s no winning and marriage. There’s no winning at friendship. The goal is to keep the game going and to have it be better and better over time. You want to a relationship, a marriage, a friendship, whatever that gets better and better over time.
Andrew Skotzko 00:05:49 There’s no winning. Um, now certainly there’s going to be times where you’re doing better than other times. You know, that that, that relationship is, is healthier and being going in the direction you want it to be going, that may shift over time, but you can’t win it. There’s no winning that. So that was one example that we can all relate to. I think of a infinite game in our lives. All right, now let’s get into the first one of these pillars adjust. Cause now quoting from the book, a Just Cause is a specific vision of a future state that does not yet exist. It’s a future state so appealing that people are willing to make sacrifices in order to help advance toward that vision. The big thing here is to realize this is a direction, not a destination. That is the key thing to understand about adjust because for all practical purposes, a true
Andrew Skotzko 00:06:34 Just Cause is so big that you will never reach it in your lifetime yet it is worth it. It is still so compelling to you that it’s worth it. Let me give you an full of that. The United States of America, one of the key pieces of languages, a more perfect union now, by definition, that cannot be reached because it can always be more perfect, right? We can always be going further in that direction. Nonetheless, that is a cause that many people find very, very compelling and are willing to dedicate their time and energy toward advancing now for something to be Just Cause there’s sort of a five part checklist here. First one adJust Cause needs to be for something, not against something. So it’s an affirmative and optimism stick statement. Number two, it’s inclusive, meaning it is open to any and all who would like to contribute to that.
Andrew Skotzko 00:07:22 Cause it’s not just for some people, but no, not for those other people over there. Number three, adJust Cause needs to be service oriented as in it is primarily for the benefit of others. Yes. Each of us who contribute to adjust because we may personally benefit in some way, but that’s not the point. Number four, the Just Cause needs to be big enough to be able to endure a political technological and cultural change. Because if it really is a Just Cause that vision of a, of a world, of, of a future state of the world, lots of things are going to change between here and there. And it needs to be able to go through those changes. And finally it needs to be idealistic and needs to be big. It needs to be bold. And ultimately actually unachievable. Now a couple of questions that come up about this all the time are okay, how big does this have to be?
Andrew Skotzko 00:08:03 Does it have to, you know, does it have to do I have to change the entire world? Cause damn that feels super overwhelming. The answer’s no, you don’t have to change the entire world, but change your world, make your world better. Make your part of the world better. The scope of adJust Cause is really up to you. You can have an on that note, you can have multiple Just Causes. You can have a Just Cause for your family. You can have one for your career. You could have one for your spiritual home, like your church. You can have one for your friend group. You can have and participate in multiple, Just Causes. Now this, by the way, going back to some of Sendik’s earlier work, this is different than the idea of the, why you think about the why each of us has, according to his assertion, each of us has one and only one why that we’re always going to have, but we can participate in many, Just Causes in every area of our life.
Andrew Skotzko 00:08:50 And frankly, we probably should. It’ll lead to, I assert that would lead to much higher levels of fulfillment and satisfaction. I highly encourage you to try that on for yourself. Now, one other question that comes up around the Just Causes. Wait a minute. So do I have to come up with a Just Cause like, do I need to be that huge visionary person that has this vision of changing the entire world? No, we’re not all Steve jobs or Martin Luther king or, you know, pick your luminary here. We don’t need to be that person. But what we do need to do is to find a cause we need to find a cause and we need to make it our own. That is what so many people have done that have made incredible contributions to the world. I don’t know who started civil rights in the global sense of that entire movement.
Andrew Skotzko 00:09:32 I’m not talking about in, you know, 60, 70 years ago in America, I’m saying ever I have no idea and lots and lots of people have latched on to that movement. Certainly we’ve seen that in the last year with the racial upheaval in America, that started in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. The point is that, cause wasn’t invented last year, but lots and lots of people have latched on to it because they realize how much it means to them. And they want to contribute to it. You know, civil rights is an excellent example of a Just Cause. So now let’s talk about the second pillar that I want to cover today, which is Worthy Rivals. So a worthy rival is I want to be clear. This is not an enemy. This in fact can be a good friend of yours. And most importantly, you can choose your Worthy Rivals.
Andrew Skotzko 00:10:09 Now worthy, rival is it might be another person. It might be another company. It might be another team within your company. But the point is is that there’s evil. That is in the same infinite game as you, but you need to respect them the worthy rival. They make you better think you better by pushing you to be better often revealing your own weaknesses, Apple and Microsoft are a classic case of Worthy Rivals. One of the things that Simon Sinek talks about in the book is that he talks about Adam Grant as a, as who’s a fantastic author, as well as one of his Worthy Rivals. And he talks about how for years, he had a lot of envy and jealousy about Adam Grant and he felt really insecure about him. And they realized one day at a conference that they felt that way about each other. And they realized that they were Worthy Rivals each of their work, pushed the other person to do better work.
Andrew Skotzko 00:10:57 And they ultimately became really good friends. And now they collaborate sometimes. And that’s a beautiful example of how you can develop Worthy Rivals. The most important thing to realize about worthy rebels is that it’s your choice. We get to choose our Worthy Rivals. So consider wisely who is it? We choose to compare ourselves to don’t let it be a default choice, make it an intentional one because those comparisons will shape how we do what we do. Okay. Let’s move on to the third, big pillar. I want to talk about today, which is Existential Flexibility or in this case, the capacity for it, the idea here is that as you’re pursuing your Just Cause as you’re pursuing that vision, you need to be willing as a, as an individual, as a leader, as an organization to completely jettison your entire strategy, right? It turns out that even after years of investment, that there is a much, much better path to realize an advanced division of the world you’re pursuing.
Andrew Skotzko 00:11:46 This is the capacity to make that huge hundred 80 degree change. Everything kind of play in service of the vision. A good example of this is Walt Disney. So Disney had become massively successful in movies and yeah, animation, but the jump to Disney land was a huge existential flex that put everything on the line for Disney. The thing about the capacity for Existential Flexibility is that it really is a capacity. It’s a capacity we’re developing in ourselves as leaders and in our leadership teams, we may never need to exercise this capacity, but we’ve got to be ready to do it. It also rides on one of the other pillars, which is trusting teams because doing an existential flex is going to suck. Like it’s going to be really hard and it’s going to put everything on the line. It’s going to be scary, but it’s going to be worth it.
Andrew Skotzko 00:12:32 And you’re only going to pull it off if you have trusting teams and all the other elements of the infinite mindset. Okay? So those are three of the big pillars of the infinite mindset. I want to put this all together into a metaphor that helps me make sense of it and kind of keep it all in my head. And that for me is a road trip. Think about a road trip. Let’s imagine you’re going on a road trip with a few friends and you have two cars, right? So on your road trip, you have a destination. Let’s say I’m in Los Angeles right now. Let’s say I’m driving to New York. That’s the destination. And that destination is providing directionality. And this is where the Just Cause comes in. This is the role of the Just Cause it’s that vision of a world, that city on a hill that we are always going towards.
Andrew Skotzko 00:13:10 And it’s useful because no matter where I am along that journey, I still know where I’m going. Like if I’m on the middle of a small road in New Mexico, I am still driving to New York that hasn’t changed. And so it gives me lots and lots of flexibility in the route I take to get there. Now, second thing I need fuel in the car while at least until Tesla takes over the world, but you get the point. The fuel is the why, it’s the purpose. It’s the, it’s the motivational energy that fires me up. And then that also that every person brings to the team and to the, to the organization, that’s the fuel. Then we need rules of the road. And those are the values, right? And these are the values, not just on, you know, written down on paper, but in operation, in behavior, what does it look like for us to operate the way we say we want to operate?
Andrew Skotzko 00:13:54 How do we choose to conduct ourselves? Those are the rules of the road, the values. Now we’ve got companions on the ride. Those are our trusting teams, right? Who’s in the car with me. We’re going for this journey together. We’re going to go through the whole experience together. Now you think about it. Then you have your route for the road trip. And that is the strategy, right? That is the strategy you’re pursuing in the service and direction of your vision. This is where there’s potential flexibility and the courage to lead come in. And you can think about it. Even going a little more detailed with this metaphor is that in service of this big vision, there are missions that we’re going to pursue along the way, right? These are legs of the route. Each leg of the route is a specific mission. We are taking on to get somewhere in service of this larger vision.
Andrew Skotzko 00:14:33 That again, in this model, we’ll never actually reach, but this is how these are our mile markers, right? So we have these missions and then we have mile markers or way points along the ride. That’s what goals are. I assert that as the right way to think about goals is they’re just mile markers in this journey telling us that we’re going in the right direction. So we’ve got a compass and we have, they’re just biomarkers. And we’re the rivals, you know, Hey, maybe that’s the other car on the road trip with you, right? Your friends in the other car. Sometimes they’re going to be ahead of you. Sometimes they’re going to be behind you. That’s a key idea in the infinite games that sometimes we’re going to be ahead. Sometimes we’re going to be behind, but again, there’s no winning and losing in an infinite game.
Andrew Skotzko 00:15:06 There’s just a head in behind sometimes. Now let’s talk about why is this all, you know, why do I find this useful? Why do I think this is worth actually investing your psychic energy into? I think there’s a few things. First of all, investing in this will help you make really big, hard decisions. Um, you know, being clear about the infinite game you’re playing and especially the Just Cause it makes, it makes it very simple to make some hard decisions, especially when opportunities come your way. They’re really shiny. You want to do it? You want to say yes, well, you can often decide very quickly by just saying, oh wow, is that aligned with where I’m going? Is that moving me in the direction in service of my Just Cause and my, my vision or is it not? If it’s not, you’ll know that right away.
Andrew Skotzko 00:15:44 And that makes decisions that maybe you would have agonized over for weeks. Really, really simple. I had that experience last year. I had an opportunity to come my way to do something looked really great on paper. And it just, when I asked the question of is that moving me in the direction I want to be going in, in service to the world, I want to create it was just a no. And you know, that would have taken me weeks normally, but it was like a 32nd thing. I personally find as someone who was raised in the very achievement oriented culture of the United States, that it’s given me permission to relax a little bit too, or at least try to relax into the infinite, constantly changing journey that we’re all on here to relax into the unknown, to not having to see the whole path, to not having to see the entire route to this destination I’m going towards it’s okay.
Andrew Skotzko 00:16:31 Because I can still, you know, hold on to this, this, I can be dogmatic and fixed and attached to this vision of a world and pursuing, but I can be super flexible about strategies to get there, different things to try, which also honestly makes it easier when things don’t work. Right? There’s lots of things I try with her. They’re not public as the experiments don’t work out. There’s no point in going further with them, but having all of that contextualized by the infinite game, it makes it so much, I don’t know. It just makes it better. Uh, you know, when things fail or don’t work out, it’s, it’s less painful. He’s like, oh, well I guess that doesn’t work to go where I’m trying to go, let me try something else. So again, it’s the idea of not defining ourselves by what we do. It’s defining ourselves by where we’re going and how we choose to live and conduct ourselves on the way there.
Andrew Skotzko 00:17:14 And there’s many ways to advance our causes. I just want to leave you with that. So my challenge to you, dear listener is to spend a little bit of time thinking for yourself. What is that infinite context and what is the infinite game you’re actually playing? And let me know what it is. I would love to hear what that is for you. You can hit me up on Twitter or email me at connect at makethingsthatmatter dot com. I would love to hear what this idea has opened up for you, how it’s contributing to your journey. And also let me know how you like this format of an episode. It’s the first time I’ve tried this. I’m sure there’s things that I totally flubbed got wrong, but I’ll try other things and we’ll keep playing with it. So give me some feedback, let me know. And until next time my friends take good care of yourselves and leave them better than you found him.