The Finite and Infinite Game
Today marks the fourth, and final, post on this month-long topic centering around competition. During the month of January, we've discussed competitive nature, competing with yourself, and the idea of cooperating instead of competing with one another. In that same vein, I want to talk about the finite and infinite game.
Simon Sinek is a brilliant author and speaker. He gives a talk, you can watch it here, about finite and infinite games. When you think of a finite game, think of football. There are a set number of players, a rule book that everyone follows, and at the end of 60 minutes, there is a winner (usually). An infinite game, on the other hand, does not have a set number of players, or a rule book, and the object is to perpetuate the game or stay in the game the longest.
Remember Blockbuster? If you needed to rent a VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray or a video game, then you went to blockbuster! Blockbusters were everywhere! Unfortunately, when Netflix and Redbox showed up, Blockbuster shuttered its stores. They failed to update their strategy. They were the best "brick and mortar" rental store but barely made a dent in the online space. Blockbuster was playing an infinite game - no defined rules or players - and they lost. The rules changed, they didn't adapt, and so they went out of business.
If you stop and think about, businesses, churches, and nonprofits, are all playing an infinite game. We aren't trying to beat the competition. We are trying to stay in the game!
Simon gives the example of when he spoke at both Microsoft and Apple. As you know, both of these companies want you to buy computers, phones, and gadgets from them. Simon said only one understood that they were playing an infinite game. He said that at Apple's meeting, they talked constantly about how to help teachers teach better, and how to help businesses grow their business. They talked about their mission and vision and why they do what they do. Microsoft on the other hand only talked about how to beat Apple.
Apple was playing the infinite game and Microsoft was trying to play a finite one. This was during the time when Microsoft was making and selling the Zune. Remember that? Yeah, me neither. The point is, they lost out on the MP3 market because they were trying to beat someone instead of trying to fulfill their mission.
Hearing this talk and grasping this idea has been a life saver for me. Honestly, it has. This talk has helped me personally and vocationally.
I don't feel pressure to drive a certain vehicle. In fact, I have whole-heartedly embraced minivans. There is no pressure to buy a home to impress someone or compete with them. We buy what our family can afford. My clothes aren't designer and my fashion isn't up-to-date. But who cares when its 50 below out anyway! We make decisions as a family based on our family. We don't try to compete or measure up to anyone else. We have a plan and a goal and we are moving in that direction.
This has especially hit home for me when it comes to being a pastor at a church. The pressure to compete with other churches is real and that's why I am thankful for this teaching. I don't have to compete with other churches because we aren't playing a finite game. The point is to perpetuate the game. The point is to stay in the game. The best way to do that is to focus on what we are doing and why we are doing it. God has given each church a purpose and a burden and that purpose is NOT to compete with and beat other churches.
I think this is true for other businesses too. Are you simply trying to beat someone or are you making your product the best it can be? Those are two different attitudes that create two different results.
The infinite game helped me to understand that I have to focus on what God wants for my life, my family, and the people I pastor. It's not about what others are doing but all about what God has asked me to do. I cannot tell you how much pressure that relieves. It's a weight lifted off of my back.
That's a game I'm happy to play.
Until Monday, Josh