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Business is an Infinite Game

02/22/2021
Infinite game of business

In his recent book, Simon Sinek refers to the infinite games of life.  We often characterize facets of life as finite, meaning they have an end.  There is no ending to fitness or intelligence.  Likewise, there is no ending in the game of business.  You do not wake up one day and realize the game is over.  You have won the game of business.  The game persists.  You may achieve business milestones such as number one in your market or a million dollars in revenue.  The game does not end; the game continues.

I recently watched "The Martian" again.  Mark Watney must solve a series of problems to survive being stranded alone on Mars.  His botany and engineering knowledge allows him to solve challenges surviving long enough for a rescue team to reach him. 

It suddenly hit me.  Business is no different.  To survive, a business owner must continually make decisions and solve problems that create the enterprise's future.  It is a series of never-ending issues to solve.  You may be thinking, what does this portend for me?  What are you doing now that will prepare you to solve unknown problems you will encounter in the future?  Are you preparing yourself to solve eventual challenges by increasing your business knowledge or joining a business peer group?

As a business coach, I help leaders think through an endless series of problems and opportunities for their business.  Often, these problems seem impossible at first.  However, these leaders find a solution repeatedly.  No bankruptcies on my watch so far, so let's knock on wood!

Since you are reading this, I am guessing you are interested in business and leadership.  You are interested in learning more about the infinite games of life.  And, yes, leadership is another infinite game.  Consider the problems you are facing now with your business.  You need to find a pivot due to the pandemic, or you need to increase sales.  You are searching for talent to help you grow.  Or it would help if you reduced the cost to manufacture your product.  These are all a series of problems to solve.   Once you solve this problem, there is only more to solve going forward.  Business is like climbing a mountain peak only to discover another peak beyond this one in your future.

Let us put this into perspective.  Winning means enjoying the journey.  While your life may not be on the line, your livelihood might be under threat.  You are going to solve the current problem only to discover another, then another.  That is the game, my friend.  It never ends.  Some peaks may be steeper and more difficult to ascend.  But there will always be another on the other side.

Having the mindset of perpetual problems to be solved will reduce your mental stress.  You will realize this problem will eventually be in your past.  Time does not stop.  It keeps moving as the game goes on into your future.  No matter how challenging the current problem becomes, it will present you with choices to make.  You will make mistakes and learn as you go forward.  Unlike Watney, your survival is not at stake.  You will adjust to your future reality.

Too many people see decisions as one-way doors.  Once you make the decision, you think you cannot go backward.  This realization is finite thinking.  In our mountain climbing analogy, as you ascend toward the peak, you will encounter impassible obstacles.  You will have to reverse course and look for another way to climb upward.  Likewise, in the business game, you will make decisions that cause you to move backward and seek another solution.  You hired the wrong general manager and must release her from your team.   This termination means you must go back and start over screening potential candidates.  You do not stop playing the game.  Now you are a little smarter and have more clarity about whom you need for the position.  The game goes on.

Too many entrepreneurs believe success; however, they define it, will bring them peace and happiness in the game of business.  Again, this is finite thinking.  Growing an enterprise creates new and different problems to solve.  This reality is typical when finite thinking causes the most angst for business leaders.  You adjusted to your business problems of the past, and now you must solve the problems of the present. 

2020 was an unprecedented problem to solve for many businesses.  Many restaurant owners needed to change how they provide food for customers.  Energy companies adapted to declining revenue.  And service organizations like my own had to embrace digital solutions.  These were merely problems to be solved for infinite thinkers.  Finite thinkers, on the other hand, only gave up and shuttered businesses.  They stopped playing the game.

Spinning current reality, no matter how difficult, as an ongoing series of problems to be solved is enlightening.  If you face a cliff on your ascent (back to the climbing analogy), you must solve the problem.  This problem might mean asking for help from someone who has climbed the peak in the past.  I know, you finite thinkers are saying to yourselves that your business is different.  But is it?  Calling your business different from others is limited thinking.  It is merely the manifestation of your mental limits.  Just because you cannot find the path to the summit does not mean it does not exist.  There is always a path forward.

I lead a local peer group of incredibly talented business leaders.  They face stone fronts that seem unscalable.  When they talk this through with each other, they always discover a new path forward.  It may not be easy, and it may require going back to base camp to get more rope and carabiners, but there is always the next step.  These steps are the game of business.

Your infinite mindset will allow you to gain a better perspective.  Seeing business an endless series of problems to be solved makes playing the game satisfying and enjoyable.  Do not stop playing because things are difficult.  Focus your energy and leverage your network to discover the next step forward.  You may need to let go of what is not in your control or take smaller steps than you imagined in the past but keep going.  The journey itself is the reward. 

The present reality is all that matters because your time to live is not infinite. Continually reliving past mistakes or obsessing about the future wastes the little time you get to live.  Be thankful for your mistakes and consider this as tuition paid to solve your present problem.  By the way, I am not inferring that you should not plan.  Mark Watney (The Martian) had to count his potatoes to know how long his food would last.  However, your plan is merely one consideration for today's problem to be solved. Always living in the future distracts you from the magic of today.  Reality is constantly changing, and the issues of the next year will likely never materialize.  Please do not spend time and mental effort solving challenges that will never occur or be vastly different from how you imagined them in the past.  Focus on today, grasshopper; the future will take care of itself.