When it comes to business and marketing strategy, it is too easy to think of short-term goals. But an ‘infinite mindset’ can have a radically better impact on the long term, not least for marketing firms.
For all too many firms, planning is related to short-term goals. Satisfying shareholders, pleasing the chief executive or even meeting the demands of a middle manager can be the defining characteristics of many company cultures.
According to Simon Sinek, author of the book ‘The Infinite Game’, this is an example of firms playing a ‘finite game’. Working with their focus on the current situation, challenges and rules, they look to beat their competitors in the here and now, without any longer-term focus.
What is an infinite game?
Speaking on Linkedin Live, Mr Sinek argued that this way of thinking can have catastrophic consequences, because it neglects the need to be adaptable for the longer run.
His analogy of the ‘infinite game’ contrasts with the ‘finite game’ in this respect: In a finite game, be it anything from football to chess, the rules and players are known and there is a defined way of achieving a final and permanent victory – whether that is leading at full time or checkmate.
By contrast, business is an infinite game, in the manner of global politics or marriage. There is no such thing as a final victory. Moreover, the rules and the players can change over time, which means those who only set out to play the game one way will find they are caught out when circumstances change and they suddenly face challenges they cannot handle.
There are many examples of how this can happen:
- The rules change because of the arrival of new technology, such as the internet
- The actual law could change, such as new regulations permitting or outlawing certain activities
- New entrants disrupt the marketplace by doing business in a different way
- Consumer tastes change, meaning your marketing buyer persona needs adjustment
What makes the ‘finite’ mindset particularly perilous is that it encourages short-term survival, not honesty and trust. Getting by in then here and now is all that matters. But that can mean ducking the necessary challenges to bring about the changes needed in order for the firm to go on prospering in the infinite game.
Why did having an infinite-minded leader save Ford?
Mr Sinek cited carmaker Ford as a prime example. In 2006, Alan Mulally took over as chief executive and asked his divisional managers to report how their sections were getting on. Despite the firm being in dire straits, none admitted a problem. He had to press the point home repeatedly that something must be wrong before, in one subsequent meeting, one executive broke ranks and admitted there was a difficulty.
The problem, Mr Sinek noted, was that Mr Mulally’s predecessor tended to fire anyone who gave him bad news. This disincentive to be honest meant problems remained hidden and, therefore, went unaddressed.
Mr Mulally’s approach was not “you are the problem”, but “you have a problem”. Rather than firing anyone, he encouraged those with issues to reveal them, so they could be tackled. Trust and openness became virtues – and a vital means of company survival.
To Mr Sinek, the approach Alan Mulally took was a clear case of an ‘infinite minded’ leader in action, with the result being that Ford recovered.
Not every major motor firm has been as successful. General Motors and Rover are a couple of good examples of big firms that have fallen by the wayside, but so too have so many former market leaders in many industries:
- Kodak: The instant picture camera firm never responded to the arrival of digital photography
- Blockbuster Video, which could not survive the rise of Netflix.
- Lehmann Brothers made it through the Great Depression but was the chief casualty of the financial crash of 2008. In the latter case, it may be argued that the very reason for that crisis was the finite game mindset of the banks; indeed, many more would have followed Lehmann but for a succession of government bailouts.
How can an infinite game mindset help with marketing?
Marketing certainly needs to adopt an infinite mindset. New technology has made possible online tools like content marketing and blogs, PPC, email marketing, social media marketing and online video sharing. While newspaper ads, billboards and TV advertising are still with us, their importance has greatly diminished and they are far less impactful when more attention is focused on digital devices in an internet age.
Even within the online sector, change has come about. The majority of web searches are now done by smartphone and making websites mobile friendly is essential. Yet those who have caught up with this development will still be at risk if they are not ready for future developments.
What those might be is the subject of much speculation as a new decade approaches – perhaps more virtual reality or artificial intelligence, for example – but whatever changes do take place, it will be the infinite minded who can best adapt to them.
Another example of this applies to content marketing. Some digital marketing firms have failed because they never adapted to changing rules of the game, such as:
- Updated search engine algorithms have made some styles of content irrelevant
- Some keywords become less likely to be searched for
- Some have failed to update content to reflect the increased importance of embedded video and images
This need for adaptability and infinite-mindedness affects specialist marketing firms, in-house marketing departments and those making decisions over engaging external marketing agencies alike. In each case, there needs to be a recognition that the game changes and so do the players.
A good example of this is the way smaller firms have found investments in the use of traditional marketing have proved to be highly ineffective in recent years, prompting the smarter firms to switch to outsourced digital marketing to gain a better return on investment and find better ways of engaging with potential and actual clients.
How we can help you keep up with the infinite game
At BeUniqueness, our approach is to offer a modern, tailored approach to every marketing solution we provide to SMEs. The marketing mix may differ widely between one firm and the next, because in an infinite game the ever-changing rules in each situation may require something different each time.
In doing so, we always set out to offer something different and more effective, helping our clients adapt to the new challenges they are sure to face.