What Game Are You Playing?

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“You have been so helpful. Please let me know if there is some way that I can thank you or help you out.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s the last thing most people will say to me after I have offered advice, provided mentoring, made a referral, etc… It’s kind, but (to me) it has always felt misplaced (and, at worst, made me feel kind of dirty). Life is not quid pro quo. When I do something (anything), there is nothing expected in return (seriously… I mean it). Over coffee the other day, a peer was asking me about my networking and business development strategy, and how I work my “long game.” My “long game”… what’s that? They went on to explain: “you never ask anybody for anything… or you rarely do… you are generous with your time, experience and advice and – above all else – you have built a strong network of people over the years that you open up to others.” 

Doesn’t everybody do this? Apparently, not.

Simon Sinek (he of Start With Why fame, and the one with over 40 million views for his How Great Leaders Inspire Action Ted Talk) has a new book coming out at the end of the year, and it’s called, The Infinite Game. Here’s a brief description of the book:

“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. The more I started to understand the difference between finite and infinite games, the more I began to see infinite games all around us. I started to see that many of the struggles that organizations face exist simply because their leaders were playing with a finite mindset in an infinite game. These organizations tend to lag behind in innovation, discretionary effort, morale and ultimately performance.”  

The infinite game or the long game?

They may be two peas in a pod, but “infinite game” aligns well with how I see business, success and achievement. If I “win” it does not mean that you lose. In fact, what’s best for me, is when every one of my peers “win” as well. While marketers love to create a sense of scarcity, success in business is much more of an abundance model. There’s enough to go around. Helping everyone else “win” does not only make business that much more enjoyable, it makes it more challenging, competitive and interesting. When someone else wins a client, it doesn’t not mean that there are no more clients left. When someone else is chosen to present at an event, it does not mean that other presenters may not be required, or you may be chosen to speak at their next/other event. Simon is right (in fact his book, Infinite Games, sounds like it’s based on another book called Finite And Infinite Games by James Carse… so they’re both right): business and success are infinite games… they are the long game. Don’t play it as a finite game with an eye towards what happened just today.

What goes around comes around.

Normally, that saying is reserved for people who do something bad to someone else, and karma is going to circle back on them. That saying can (and should) be used in a positive light as well. If there is someone that you can introduce someone to (and it’s no harm, no foul), why not do it? If you’re not the right business fit for a client, why not point them in the direction of someone who can best serve them? If you can help out a local non-profit or charity without taking free promotion or recognition in return, why not help out? It seems obvious, but how many business leaders are truly living this? Life is long. Success will be measured by your network and not your net worth (thank you, Jeffrey Gitomer). Thinking about the future, instead of being focused on revenue today/tomorrow will always make your brand short-sighted. Short termism is real. What kind of business life do you really want? What kind of brand legacy are you truly building.

What game are you playing? I hope it’s the long game.