You’ll Never Be #1, Nor Should You Try to Be…
As a culture, especially in America, we like to rank things. There’s top 10 lists of all sorts, competitions to determine who’s the best in a given category and even outside of these so-called competitions, people and companies claim to be “the best” or “number one.” Here’s a question for you? How can there be millions of “the world’s best pizza” pizzarias? There can’t. Deep down, I think we all understand that it’s a marketing ploy by all those restaurants. But then, how do you know if someone is number one? More importantly, does it even matter? I say not as I borrow ideas and principles laid out by Simon Sinek from The Infinite Game. After you’re done with this lessons, comment down below with activities you’d categories as finite games and then do the same with infinite games. Thanks for tuning in.
SELECTED LINKS FROM EPISODE:
-Simon Sinek Interview with Tom Bilyeu: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2K4VqkfRaM
-Motivation Madness Interview with Simon Sinek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENIwAZZw8J0
-Lewis Howes Interview with Simon Sinek: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SG4EWUlXci0
-Simon Sinek on the Millennial Generation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNgQOHwsIbg
-How to Lead in the 21st Century: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vX2iVIJMFQ
-Master Mental Fortitude Course Book: http://mastermentalfortitude.com
-Adorama Affiliate Link: https://www.adorama.com/?utm_source=rflaid914115
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As a culture, especially in America, we like to rank things. There’s top 10 lists of all sorts, competitions to determine who’s the best in a given category and even outside of these so-called competitions, people and companies claim to be “the best” or “number one.” Here’s a question for you? How can there be millions of “the world’s best pizza” pizzarias? There can’t. Deep down, I think we all understand that it’s a marketing ploy by all those restaurants. But then, how do you know if someone is number one? More importantly, does it even matter? I say not. Stay with me to find out why.
First off, I want you to know that many of the concepts I’m sharing here are from a thinker I admire more and more every day, and that’s Simon Sinek. He recently came out with a book called The Infinite Game, which I encourage you to check out. I got introduced to his thinking about 10 months ago via a podcast and his words shifted my thinking dramatically. And I hope you’ll have the same epiphanies now as I did almost a year ago.
The core of what Simon teaches is that there’s two types of games. Finite and infinite. Most of us are familiar with finite games. A game of baseball is a finite game. A sport’s league constitutes as a finite game. The hot dog eating contest at your local fair counts. What each of these have in common is that there are set rules, players, objectives and timelines that are agreed upon by everyone. Pretty much any sport of competition is an example of a finite game, as long as it meets that criteria. And I’ll be the first to admit, I love sports and more specifically, sports metaphors. However, there’s one flaw with sports analogies and that’s the fact that they’re finite and not infinite.
The difference between a finite game vs an infinite game is that in an infinite game there’s unknown rules, players, objectives and timelines because no one has agreed upon them. No one wins in business. Business, like politics, is an infinite game. The sole objective of the game is to keep playing. How do you keep playing? You keep improving over time.
A huge problem with our society, in business and in politics, is that we have leaders who don’t know the game they’re playing. They’re viewing things from a finite perspective. It’s most evident in phrases such as “we’re number one” or “we’re the best.” No they’re not. According to who’s definition?
Once I learned this distinction it was as if everything clicked for me. I stopped wanting to be the best. Instead, all I wanted was to stay in the game. I’m a content creator. That’s what I want to keep doing. And as long as I create content, I’m in the game. Fame and success is so fucking subjective that it’s laughable to me now to think I bought into such small-minded thinking.
Let’s examine a company that played by finite rational in an infinite game. Remember Blockbuster? In case you don’t, it was a movie rental company. It was a household name and was poised to be Netflix by entering the streaming game in the 2000s. One executive certainly wanted that but his board disagreed. With the benefit of hindsight, you might be wondering how could that be? It’s because at the time late fees accounted for 12% of profits for Blockbuster. By switching to streaming, they’d lose out on that revenue because there’d be no DVDs to have to return. That 12% lose would only be temporary, as Netflix has shown, but something the Blockbuster board was unwilling to let go of. And long story short, they’re out of business.
When you think about it, it’s no coincidence that this happens to companies. Why is it that taxi companies didn’t invent Uber? Or why haven’t hotels created AirBnB? It’s because companies are too concerned with maintaining the status quo, wrongfully thinking that it’ll preserve their dominance. That’s an example of finite thinking in an infinite game.
Companies, and people, need to have existential flexibility. As Simon Sinek defines it, an existential flex is the capacity to make a dramatically huge strategic shift in an entirely new direction to advance a cause.
Here’s a concrete example of someone who exercises existential flexibility—Steve Jobs. Apple was almost ready to release their computers when Jobs met up with some people who showed him a graphic interface. Immediately he went back to his team and said they needed to jump on that and make it part of their product. Many people told him it was impossible and that’d they’d not only miss the deadline but bankrupt the company. Steve said, “Better us than someone else.”
The rest as they say is history. That decision changed the computer industry and technology landscape as we know it. Steve wasn’t concerned with the short term. He had a mission, or mindset if you want to call it that, for Apple to develop user friendly products to their customers to make their lives easier and better. That value still holds today and is one that doesn’t have an end. It’s ongoing. Hence, it’s part of the infinite game where the objective is to keep going, improving, developing, etc.
So how come there’s so much discourse around us about being the best and so forth? Well, because as I mentioned, many people in high up positions aren’t aware of the game they’re playing. By definition, finite games are easier to understand and thus they’re perpetuated through sports metaphors and culture in general. Consider a song like Nelly’s “Number 1.” It’s a catchy tune that makes you feel good. But that’s because as a society we’re tried to simplify what success is and how it should be defined for people. This is bullshit. You’ll never be #1, nor should you want to be. Keep playing the game aka keep making content. When you do that, you’re successful.
In the past I’ve described the entertainment industry as a shaking tree. As long as you can hang on to that tree, you’ll do well. That’s a great analogy for the infinite game and while I may have talked about the infinite game primarily in terms of companies, this principle applies equally to us as individuals. The infinite game mindset is a lifestyle. By thinking and acting in these terms, you won’t be trying to shove a square peg in a round hole which means you won’t be as stressed out. I certainly shed a lot of anxiety once I learned about the infinite game. This is because I stopped putting so much pressure on the short term gains and focused on my long term goals and objectives. I had a mission for myself and that’s my guiding light every day. And when I see something that can help me achieve my mission easier, faster, smoother or perhaps better… well then I embrace it. Social media is an example of this. Rather than think of social media as good or bad, it is a tool which I use to help reach, inspire and teach people along with the other tools and tactics at my disposal. That’s the way you need to see it.
The other way in which making the shift to an infinite mindset helps you is that you’ll stop being jealous of people. When you’re so desperate to be #1 you become vicious in your pursuits. It’s why there’s stereotypes about the LA lifestyle of people being overly narcissistic. Mind you, this is an upward trend throughout the country but it just happens to be more easily noticeable in artists. The point being though, you’ll no longer see people as threats. They may be your rivals but a rival is good. A rival is like a mirror that showcases your weaknesses so you can adjust and grow. Remember, the goal is to stay in the game. You can’t stay in the game if you don’t improve.
Look at it from this perspective: over the next decade along, the ways in which we create and consume content will change drastically many times over. You need to be able to keep up. If you view it with finite terms, such as “I know how to do x, y and z and I’m great at those,” you’ll eventually be blindsided because a shift will happen sooner or later and you’ll have made yourself obsolete. Be a constant learner. That’s really what the infinite game is all about.
Here’s where it gets trippy, at least to some people. The infinite game, aka your life or career, is comprised of finite games. Plainly stated, it means you should have deadlines for yourself. The difference is don’t beat yourself up if you miss a certain deadline. For example, my goal has been to write a novel and when I began the process I obviously had written nothing, hence I created timelines of when I wanted things to be done by. Boy, was I off on those. But, by doing that, it propelled me to knuckle down and get to work. Now I’m in the final phase of the novel! So do the same. Set deadlines… but don’t be harsh on yourself if you miss them because you’re still better off than when you began, right? And in the words of Obama, “better is good.” Simon Sinek thinks so. And I agree.
To help put this lesson to practice, go ahead and comment with things in your life that constitute as finite games and then write down infinite games you’re involved in. Make the two lists as long as possible so you can truly start to differentiate between the two. By doing this, you’ll be able to better assess parts of your life and make better decisions because you’ll know the game you’re playing. You might not become number 1, but you’ll never lose. And in the infinite game, that’s the victory because those who were the so-called best are probably has beens. Yes, I said it. So don’t make it a point to be number one.
And that’s it for this lesson. If you’re interested in learning more about finite vs infinite games, I’ve linked to some of my favorite interviews with Simon Sinek. And, please feel free to click over to any of the numerous lessons I’ve created just for you. I have so many you can check out along with other free resources. All you have to do is go to my website at philsvitek.com. If you’re looking to better apply my lessons to your life, then I encourage you to check out my course book at mastermentalfortitude.com. Lastly, a huge thank you to the people that helped make this episode financially possible. If you too would like to support this show, you can either head on over to my Patreon or sport some merch from my store. Links are down below as well. Or you can just tell a friend about this show and we can build a great community of like-minded creatives. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to tune in. I’m @PhilSvitek on social media and I’ll see you next time.