The Infinite Game — Book Review

Author: Simon Sinek
Date read: Jan 6, 2020 — Jan 24, 2020
Format of book: Hardback
Link to book:

Cover Description

In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.
In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.

My 3 sentence summary

In The Infinite Game, Simon encourages the reader to recognize the game that they’re in and lead with an infinite mindset, that is, to lead in a way that advances a Just Cause, perpetuates the game, invites others to join, is ethical, inclusive, and thinks generationally. A leader with a finite mindset might focus on performance over people and try to best a competitor at the expense of their employees or push so hard for success now that their company and product are no longer relevant in future.

Why did I read this book?

I read this book because I really enjoyed “Leaders Eat Last” and became a Simon Sinek fanboy. I really enjoy his take on leadership and how he uses solid examples from business and the military to convey his point. I always feel like I learn something about history when reading his books or listening to his talks.

Key takeaways

  • To consider the game I’m in and make sure I’m playing with the correct mindset (finite or infinite). I like Simon’s analogy to marriage and friendship in the first quote below.
  • I’m more fulfilled when I’m advancing a Cause I believe in and not just in it for the money or to beat a competitor to it.
  • There is no winner in life. No matter how much money I make or power I accumulate. Did I perpetuate through my behavior the things I value most, the things bigger than myself?
  • Am I too focused on short-term gains or am I investing into what matters, such as, advancing a Cause, building healthy and trusting relationships, community, and more longer term values?


No huge disagreements. I might come back to this after thinking about it more.

Actionable items

  • Write a personal WHY and Just Cause (P. 34)
  • Reflect on the different games I’m in and whether I have the correct mindset for them. Some games don’t have a winner and can change from day to day.
  • Read Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse (where Simon got his inspiration)
  • Read the About pages for my current and past employers to see if their “Just Cause” matches their behaviors and values from the top down.

Favorite quotes

There are so many great quotes on this book, I highlighted almost 100 of them! here are some of my favorites:

The more I looked at the world through Carse’s lens of finite and infinite games, the more I started to see infinite games all around us, games with no finish lines or winners. There is no such thing as coming in first in marriage or friendship, for example. (P. 4)
To ask, “What’s best for me” is finite thinking. To ask, “What’s best for us” is infinite thinking. (P. 10)
A Just Cause is not the same as our WHY. A WHY comes from the past. It is an origin story. It is a statement of who we are, the sum total of our values and beliefs. A Just Cause is about the future. It defines where we are going. It describes a world we hope to live in and will commit to help build. (P. 33)
A Just Cause must be (P. 37):
* For something — affirmative and optimistic
* Inclusive — open to all those who would like to contribute
* Service oriented — for the primary benefit of others
* Resilient — able to endure political, technological, and cultural change.
* Idealistic — big, bold and ultimately unachievable.
Again, only when the primary beneficiary of the Cause is someone other than the organization itself can the Cause be Just. This is what “Servant Leadership” means. It means the primary benefit of the contributions flows downstream. (P. 43)
A Just Cause should direct the business model, not the other way around… money is the fuel to advance the Cause, it is not a Cause itself. (P. 56, 57)
Leaders with a finite mindset often confuse having a successful product with having a strong company.
When you have your cause, write it down… A written cause works like a compass. (P. 48, 49)
It’s a strange quirk of human nature. The order in which a person presents information more often than not reveals their actual priorities and the focus of their strategies. (P. 63)
When companies make their people feel like they matter, the people come together in a way that money simply cannot buy. (P. 98)
For the feeling of trust to develop, we have to feel safe expressing ourselves first. We have to feel safe being vulnerable… “Trust is the stacking and layering of small moments and reciprocal vulnerability over time.” (P. 106)
Our goal, as leaders, is to ensure that our people have the skills, technical skills, human skills or leadership skills, so that they are equipped to work to their natural best and be a valuable asset to the team. This means we have to work with the low-trust players to help them learn the human skills to come more trusted and trusting, and work with the low performers to help them learn the technical skills to improve their performance. (P. 113)
The process of building trust takes risk. We start by taking small risks, and if we feel safe, we take bigger ricks. Sometimes there are missteps. Then we try again, until, eventually, we feel we can be completely ourselves. Trust must be continuously and actively cultivated. (P. 118)
It is the combination of what we value and how we act that sets the culture of the company… Culture = Values + Behaviors. (P. 121)
Ethical fading is not an event. It’s more like an infection that festers over time. (P. 136)
Euphemisms allow us to disassociate ourselves from the impact of decisions or actions we might otherwise find distasteful or hard to live with… Human beings become “data points” and “data mining” is a more palatable way of saying we’re tracking people’s every click, trip, and personal habit… The words we choose can help us distance ourselves from any sense of responsibility. They can, however, help us act more ethically too. (P. 141)
When problems arise, performance lags, mistakes are made or unethical decisions are uncovered, Lazy Leadership chooses to put their efforts into building process to fix the problems rather than building support for their people. After all, process is objective and reliable. (P. 146)
In every case I wrote about to demonstrate the Courage to Lead, the hard decisions were not made by great women and great men. They are done by great partnerships. Great teams… Courageous Leaders are strong because they know they don’t have all the answers and they don’t have total control.
When leaders exercise the Courage to Lead, the people who work inside their organization will start to reflect that same courage. Like children who mirror their parents, so to do employees mirror their leaders. Leaders who prioritizes themselves over the group breed cultures of employees who prioritize their own advancement over the health of the company. The Courage to Lead begets the Courage to Lead. (P. 219)
And no matter how much money we make, no matter how much power we accumulate, no matter how many promotions we’e given, none of us will ever be declared the winner of life. (P. 221)
To parent with an infinite mindset, in contrast, means helping our kids discover their talents, pointing them to their own passions and encouraging they take that path. It means teaching our children the value of service, teaching them how to make friends and play well with others.. There is no single, greater contribution in the Infinite Game than to raise children who will continue to grow and serve others long after we are gone. (P. 223)

Favorite chapter

Chapter: Ethical Fading (8)

Ethical fading refers to an erosion of the ethical standards of a business in which employees become used to engaging in or condoning such behaviour.

This was one of my favorite chapters because it surfaced common issues that I’d like to be more aware of with myself and others. Simon touches on how deceptive euphemisms can be, as we can distance ourselves from responsibility. He also talks about how a culture of pressure, demands, and incentives can lead to Ethical Fading over time.

…their will to do the right thing gave way to demands placed upon them. (P. 135)

Who would I recommend it to?

I think this book can be adapted to just about anyone who is interested in understanding what an infinite mindset looks like. It’s overall really good human advice with some great examples from business and military history. Because Simon talks so much about leadership and how culture starts from the top and flows downward, I’d recommend this book to anyone who leads in any manner. Whether it be a CEO of a huge company or a parent of children, there’s some good advice in there for everyone.

Rating — 5