I recently listened to Brene Brown’s “Dare to Lead” podcast, that featured author and speaker Simon Sinek. In the podcast discussion, they spoke about his latest book “The Infinite Game,” wherein he expanded on a concept that I identified with so strongly. The concept is that of finite thinking versus infinite thinking as a construct to characterize your mindset or the mindset of others. You can watch him speak about it in this YouTube video. As I was listening to this podcast I had to stop what I was doing and do nothing more than listen. That is how powerfully it moved and resonated with me.
Sinek explains that finite games have clear and set rules, players, win conditions, and winners and losers. Infinite games don’t have set rules, the players change, and there is no ending. He went on to say, “Nobody wins health care or education,” and many leaders don’t seem to recognize which game they are playing. According to Sinek, if we play an infinite game with a finite mindset, the impact includes outcomes such as erosion of trust, cooperation and innovation.
So, what does this mean for us and how can we apply this concept? Often I reflect on what motivates and drives me in my career and life. I have found that helping to lead my organization as a public servant, and having an active, healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same is what drives me. I am acutely aware that these are long-term commitments or quests. I’m in it for the long term and will have short-term accomplishments in the furtherance of these commitments. I see myself as part of a much larger whole, contributing to causes that will and should long outlive me. I am here to advance these causes and make a positive impact each day. In my work, as in my personal life, this mission is unending. In fact, I will never reach a point where everything in furtherance of the mission has been accomplished. My career and commitment to living healthily and helping others do the same requires endurance and resiliency if I am to ultimately fulfill my purpose. To use Sinek’s terms, this is infinite thinking.
Finite thinking looks something like shortsightedness or selfishness. This can happen if we do not look beyond what is happening more immediately around us. Decisions that are made from a finite mindset could have disastrous consequences. Examples of finite thinking could include making a decision to cut resources in an area to solve an immediate problem without regard for the negative impact it will cause down the line, or excluding a member of a team from being involved in a project because they have a difference of opinion or approach. These happen to be reactive decisions, and lack the big picture perspective.
It helps to use this construct that Sinek offers to conceptualize our ways of thinking because we will find ourselves in situations where at times we are in an infinite mindset or a finite mindset. We can use this to identify where we ourselves and others are coming from as we work through issues together. It helps also to remind ourselves of how we are oriented and what is important as we continually face new challenges and opportunities. Since we know well that the challenges will never cease, it helps to have a mindset that lets us accept that and find ways to align and advance the greater cause.
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Christine is Deputy Director, Office of Ethics and Integrity of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This article was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or the federal government. Christine also serves as a Community Volunteer Leader for the American Red Cross, Montgomery, Howard, and Frederick County Chapter, and on the advisory committee for her city pool and fitness center. She is inspired to write about endurance, volunteerism, and career management, among other topics. In her “spare” time she is an avid swimmer and runner, and enjoys spending time with her family, friends and pets. Her motto is: “Work hard, play hard.”
This writing was prepared by the author in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the FDA, DHHS or Federal Government.