Monday, September 17, 2018

No End Game in Business

Sports analogies for business are wrong. This was the intriguing point Simon Sinek recently made in a leadership summit. In his talk, he used some war analogies, which might be closer...but not quite.

In business, we're involved in an "Infinite Game". However, we think we're in a 'finite' game, one with:

  • clear rules, 
  • defined ways of keeping score and knowing if you're ahead, 
  • clear playing field, and 
  • known opponents who're following the same rules.
When we apply sports analogies, we think business is conducted this way. In modern war--especially guerrilla warfare--many of these sports analogies don't apply. Instead, like the North Vietnamese in the 1960's and 1970's, they were playing for the long-term. Even though they were 'losing' by many scorecards--e.g. casualty rates 40x greater than the US--they outlasted the US because they were in an Infinite Game:
  • rules change all the time
  • there's no ahead or behind; there's only getting better at your efforts
  • as strategy changes, the playing field boundaries change
  • unknown opponents and allies
In an Infinite Game, an ideological rival is of more value to you than a tactical rival. An ideological rival is one that challenges why you're still in business. A tactical rival only challenges how you do your business and what business you decide to grow. The corporate culture that will help your team succeed at the Infinite Game:
  • Just Cause: the purpose, vision of your business stated in the affirmative, is inclusive, resilient to changing conditions, is customer-focused and is defined such that all members of your organization know how they can meaningfully and significantly contribute;
  • Trusting Teams: a high level of organizational trust is needed to progress (and is especially important for engagement on the mission of the organization) and is evident when people are open about mistakes, doubts, and needing help;
  • Worthy Rival: one who pushes you to get better than you were yesterday, because they too are focused on getting better against their own performance and not focused on you (Sinek says he knew Microsoft was in trouble when they were focused on beating Apple and Apple was focused on providing better customer experiences for people using digital devices);
  • Existential Flexibility: the Why won't change, but the How and What may e.g. Wells Fargo is still in the connecting people, money and goods and the How changed from stagecoaches to banking
  •  Courage to Lead: to go into new territory of behavior, marketing, development, autonomous teams ("trust your people enough to believe they know when to break the rules"--Sinek)

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