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The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.
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When two or more people or businesses face each other, they engage in a game in which they jostle for dominance and survival. Within this game, some do well and some don’t; some businesses thrive while others go under, some careers take off while others flounder.

The difference between surviving and failing, or thriving and floundering, usually comes down to a difference in how a person or a leader approaches the game. People who flounder view the game as a finite one filled with short-term concerns and aimed at a win-or-lose ending point. People who thrive see the larger picture, viewing their challenges as part of an infinite game that is constantly evolving and never-ending.

In The Infinite Game, motivational speaker and New York Times bestselling author Simon Sinek explores the differences between infinite and finite games and walks you through how to develop an infinite mindset that will put you and your organization on a path for long-term success in business.

Two Games: Finite and Infinite

There are two kinds of games: finite and infinite. Finite games have known, defined characteristics:

  • They are played by known players.
  • They have fixed rules.
  • They have an agreed-upon objective, with a clearly-defined winner and loser determined by a specific metric.
  • They have a defined ending point; once their objective has been reached, the players stop playing and the game is over.

Baseball is an example of a finite game. In baseball, the players are easily identified and quantified; they wear uniforms and each team has a specific number of players. The players agree to and follow rules, which referees enforce. The game ends when a certain number of innings has passed, at which time a winner and loser are identified using a predetermined metric: runs scored. When the game ends, the players stop playing and everyone goes home.

Infinite games have unknown, indeterminate characteristics:

  • They are played by both known and unknown players, who may not be easily identified and who may enter and leave the game along the way.
  • They have no fixed rules, other than some legal parameters.
  • They have no agreed-upon objective. There are no clear winners or losers. There are multiple metrics that can be used to determine success or failure, and these can be interpreted differently in different situations.
  • They don’t end; players stop playing when they choose not to play anymore or they run out of resources, but the game continues on without them.

Business, on the other hand, is an infinite game. There are many players, some of whom you won’t recognize. Players enter and leave the game along the way. There are no fixed rules—other than being constrained to legal behavior, there’s no formula or handbook for what you should do or how you should play. There’s no agreed-upon objective; one person’s outcome will be different from another’s and neither is right or wrong. You can’t “win” business. There are multiple metrics for success, and they can be interpreted in various ways; for example, one airline might claim to be everyone’s “favorite” based on customer satisfaction reviews, while another might claim to be the “favorite” because they sell more seats. Lastly, there is no pre-set beginning, middle, or end; when a company steps out of the game, the game continues without it.

Two Mindsets: Finite and Infinite

A leader who understands she is playing an infinite game will have much greater success than one who thinks she is playing a finite game. Someone who sees the infinite game will make decisions based on long-term strategies that develop long-term strength, while a leader who plays a finite game will aim for short-term wins that might weaken her organization in the long run. Consistently, businesses that succeed over many years are run by leaders with infinite mindsets, while businesses that fail are run by leaders with finite mindsets.

There are several key differences between finite and infinite mindsets. Each mindset reflects different attitudes and priorities towards competitive pressures. Some of these differing attitudes include:

  • Winning versus playing: A finite-minded leader plays to win, while an infinite-minded leader plays to survive. Therefore, a finite-minded leader works to defeat others while an infinite-minded leader works to improve her standing among others.
  • “It’s about me” versus “It’s about us”: While a finite-minded leader thinks only of herself and her company, an infinite-minded leader considers the impact her company will have on her employees, her community, the economy, and the outside world.
  • Reactive versus proactive: Finite-minded players react to disruptions, while infinite-minded players anticipate them and proactively prepare for them.
  • Short-term versus long-term goals: Finite-minded players tend to make decisions and set goals based on what will affect their near-term bottom line, while infinite-minded players tend to set goals that work toward a longer-term view of success. Ironically, infinite-minded companies often end up with higher profits even though they’re not focused as fixedly on their bottom line.
  • Short-term threats versus long-term threats: Finite-minded leaders often focus on specific, definable threats posed by their rivals, and center their corporate strategies around responding to those threats. Infinite-minded leaders focus on exploring unknown possibilities that might strengthen their organizations (for example, innovations that might add value for their customers).
  • Stability versus resilience: Finite-minded companies aim for stability and the ability to weather storms. Infinite-minded companies aim not just to weather storms but to be made stronger by them. They are resilient rather than merely stable.

Finite Thinking Leads to Short-Lived Companies

As finite thinking in boardrooms has increased...

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The Infinite Game Summary The Difference Between Finite and Infinite Games

When two or more people or businesses face each other, they engage in a game in which they jostle for dominance and survival. Within this game, some do well and some don’t; some businesses thrive while others go under, some careers take off while others flounder.

The difference between surviving and failing, or thriving and floundering, usually comes down to a difference in how a person or a leader approaches the game. Some people view the game as a finite one filled with short-term concerns and aimed at a win-or-lose ending point. Others see the larger picture, viewing their challenges as part of an infinite game that is constantly evolving and never-ending.

In The Infinite Game, motivational speaker and New York Times bestselling author Simon Sinek explores the differences between infinite and finite games. He walks you through how to develop an infinite mindset that will put you and your organization on a path for long-term success in business.

(Shortform note: We’ve reorganized the book’s content to add clarity and omitted some material to prevent repetition.)

Two Games: Finite and Infinite

As we journey through life, we will engage with two kinds of games:...

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The Infinite Game Summary Guideline 1: Advance a Just Cause

To develop an infinite mindset, start by understanding your Just Cause. A Just Cause is a big-picture vision that provides a framework for your corporate strategies. It provides a context for all the decisions you’ll make. A Just Cause inspires people to make sacrifices to advance it. A leader who plays an infinite game with an infinite mindset always has a Just Cause that guides her and her organization.

A poignant example of a Just Cause was the Leningrad seed bank started by Nikolai Vavilov in the early 1900s. Vavilov’s vision, born of the starvation he witnessed in Russia in that era, was to improve crops to better resist things like drought, pests, and disease, and therefore prevent famines. His vision was so inspiring that the scientists who followed in his footsteps refused to eat the seeds in the bank when they were caught in the siege of Leningrad in 1941 and 1944. Nine of these scientists died of starvation rather than destroy their collection; they saw their vision as larger and more important than themselves.

What a Just Cause Is

A Just Cause is a specific vision of an ideal state of the future that people are inspired to work towards and make...

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Shortform Exercise: Name Your Just Cause

A Just Cause is a big-picture vision that provides a framework for your corporate strategies. A Just Cause outlines the reason you are in business beyond the provision of any one specific product or service; it is the vision your product or service exists to support.


Write down your company’s Just Cause. Think beyond your product or service—ask yourself what larger need your product or service answers (remember the example of the railroad companies, who should have seen themselves as transportation providers rather than sellers of train tickets).

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The Infinite Game Summary Guideline 2: Build Trusting Teams

The second guideline to follow that will help you lead your organization with an infinite mindset is to build trusting teams. A trusting team is a team made up of people who feel safe around each other—safe expressing their feelings, asking for help, talking about problems, and admitting to mistakes.

On a trusting team, workers know that their bosses and colleagues will support them through errors and will offer help in a non-judgmental way when asked. Thus, they feel safe being honest. Conversely, on a non-trusting team, people do not feel comfortable showing vulnerabilities and often feel compelled to lie, hide mistakes, and fake expertise rather than ask for help. In such an environment, problems in an organization are ignored or hidden instead of fixed. After some time, these problems can build up and can be much harder to address.

Sometimes, the benefits that trusting teams can bring to an organization can be the difference between life and death. The experiences of the crew on the Shell URSA oil rig illustrate this effect. The rig, completed in 1997, stood 48 stories high and was capable of drilling deeper than any other existing rig in the world. As part of the...

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Shortform Exercise: Design Ethical Incentives

In an organization run with a finite mindset where employees are judged exclusively on their performance with no consideration given to how they achieved that performance, employees can feel pressure to hit their targets by cutting corners, bending rules, and making unethical decisions.


Think back to a work situation in which you felt compelled to cut corners or otherwise behave unethically in order to keep up with the performance of colleagues. What actions did you feel compelled to engage in? What outcome were you expecting by engaging in them?

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The Infinite Game Summary Guideline 3: Study Your Worthy Rivals

The third way to develop your infinite-minded leadership is to study your worthy rivals. A worthy rival is a competitor who is better than you at certain things, and who can therefore reveal to you ways you can improve, enabling you to better survive in the infinite game. They may make a better product, provide a better service, or command stronger customer loyalty than you do: anything from which you can draw lessons.

You don’t have to like your worthy rival; in fact, your worthy rival might hold values you actively oppose. However, if you can’t see past your dislike of your competitor, you might blind yourself to some lessons they can teach you. For example, retired FBI agent and pioneering criminal profiler John Douglas was able to get past his dislike of his rivals—serial killers—and see what they were good at: profiling (potential victims). Seeing these competitors as worthy rivals inspired him to constantly improve his own profiling techniques (for killers instead of victims) in order to match theirs.

A worthy rival can inspire you to act ethically and can help you define your Just Cause. We’ll cover both of these ideas below.

Having a Worthy Rival Can...

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Shortform Exercise: Find a Worthy Rival

When you have a worthy rival, that person or organization can keep you focused on what you stand for. When a worthy rival shows you both what to imitate and what to avoid doing, they can help you define your own Just Cause.


Name a competitor whom you admire in some way—someone (or some organization) who does at least one thing better than you do.

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The Infinite Game Summary Guideline 4: Be Existentially Flexible

The fourth guideline that prepares you to lead with an infinite mindset is being prepared to be flexible on a fundamental, existential level. An existential flex is a purposeful, dramatic change that a person willingly makes in order to stay true to her Just Cause. It’s a move that pushes her out of her comfort zone and carries a risk of failure but is necessary in order for her to continue to play an infinite game.

Be Flexible Proactively

Importantly, an existential flex is not a reactive move—a move that someone makes in order to stay alive in the face of difficult challenges. Instead, it’s a move made in anticipation of a future changing climate and made with the understanding that at some point in the future, your organization will need to be positioned differently to survive.

Because of the forward-thinking nature of an existential flex, it’s a move that a person makes when things are going well, when she sees that down the road, she’ll need to be on a different path in order to live up to her Just Cause.

Case Study: Walt Disney’s Flex

For example, Walt Disney made a proactive existential flex when, in 1952, he quit his own company, Walt Disney...

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Shortform Exercise: Plan for an Existential Flex

An existential flex is a purposeful, dramatic change that a person willingly makes in order to stay true to her Just Cause. It’s a move that pushes her out of her comfort zone and carries a risk of failure but is necessary in order for her to continue to play an infinite game.


Describe a fundamental change that you anticipate coming to your industry. It might be technological, political, or market-based. (Have fun with this, if needed: If there’s nothing you’re currently anticipating, imagine something that might possibly happen, if something changes in the wider world.)

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The Infinite Game Summary Guideline 5: Lead Courageously

The fifth and final guideline to follow in developing your infinite mindset is to lead courageously. Leading courageously means working toward a better future, even if doing so puts your own career in jeopardy.

Leading Courageously Means Supporting Your Just Cause

When a leader leads courageously, she bases her decisions not on outsider expectations but on her Just Cause. This might mean taking risks that investors warn against, and risks that outsiders believe to be bad bets but to an infinite-minded leader, seem like the only logical next step. But leading courageously is not simply about taking risks; finite-minded leaders take risks too. Leading courageously is about taking risks for the express purpose of following your Just Cause.

It can be difficult to take such risks; companies and leaders face a myriad of pressures from investors, who want to see immediate shareholder returns, as well as from employees, who want to see continuous signs of a company’s health to ensure their own job security.

Case Study: CVS Health

The convenience store and pharmacy CVS Health demonstrated courageous leadership when they decided, in 2014, to stop selling...

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Shortform Exercise: Align Your Just Cause to Your Actions

To truly lead with an infinite mindset, your Just Cause must be more than merely words; you must act on it. Otherwise, it’s nothing but a marketing slogan.


Think of a company—either one you’ve worked for or one you’re familiar with—that does things that don’t align with their stated mission. (For example, you might think of a national company that advertises excellent worker relations but is often in the press with labor problems, or a local restaurant that loudly proclaims their commitment to customer service but employs surly waiters.)

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The Infinite Game Summary Conclusion: Changes Are Coming

People are starting to question Friedman’s philosophies about business existing only to serve an elite class of owners, and are starting to recognize that there are other important reasons that companies exist. We can see this in the rise of alternative corporate structures like B Corporation certifications that require companies to adhere to social and environmental priorities, as well as organizations like Conscious Capitalism that support like-minded companies aspiring to higher purposes.

Part of what’s driving this change is a rethink of the role of shareholders in a corporation. Economists and investors talk about shareholders as if they are owners of a company—which technically, they are—but a more accurate analogy would be to think of shareholders as renters, rather than owners. Watch any show advising people on stocks and it’s clear that the analysts are giving...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • The Difference Between Finite and Infinite Games
  • Guideline 1: Advance a Just Cause
  • Exercise: Name Your Just Cause
  • Guideline 2: Build Trusting Teams
  • Exercise: Design Ethical Incentives
  • Guideline 3: Study Your Worthy Rivals
  • Exercise: Find a Worthy Rival
  • Guideline 4: Be Existentially Flexible
  • Exercise: Plan for an Existential Flex
  • Guideline 5: Lead Courageously
  • Exercise: Align Your Just Cause to Your Actions
  • Conclusion: Changes Are Coming