LinkedIn Speaker Series - Simon Sinek

Notes I took from LinkedIn Speaker Series: Simon Sinek on YouTube

This was streamed live, so there is some dead air until just before 15:00


(start of interview at 17:00)

new book - “The Infinite Game”

[quick search: $20, ★★★★1/2 on Amazon]

two main topics:

1) how to structure companies, thinking of the future and what they are doing, to find employees and customers who love them, to outlast where we are today

2) modern capitalism

Q: what does it take to have an infinite mindset, and why is that important?


finite and infinite games (from James Carse)

[which is another book I’ve heard of but haven’t read]

finite game: known players, fixed rules, agreed-upon objectives (baseball, chess, etc., where objective is to win)

infinite games: known and unknown players, rules are changeable (play how you want), objective is to keep the game going - there is no “winning”, because there is no end

but the language of leaders is that of a finite game

playing an infinite game with a finite mindset typically results in: decline of trust, decline of cooperation, decline of innovation

Q: one of the most important things is to have a “just cause” - what does that take, and why is it important?


words like vision, mission, purpose - don’t have standardized definitions

vision is important, but we don’t know what it is, and it’s a moving target

a “just cause” - a cause so just, that we would be willing to sacrifice in order to advance the cause

which could mean working late hours, taking frequent business trips, turning down more money somewhere else - don’t like these, but it feels worth it

Q: there are five things to qualify for a just cause


I wrote them in the book but I don’t know what they are

has to be optimistic - positive vision of an idealized future, has to be in service of another - not for the primary benefit of you, it’s an idealized state - like “all men are created equal”,

and you can see milestones in your life that you’re getting closer to this ideal state, which inspire you to keep fighting

Q: what happens when the company says “here is our just cause”, but we also have these quarterly numbers we have to hit? or we have to do this project because our competitors are doing it and we’ll lose market share? is this realistic for a business?



what you’re articulating is a CEO that doesn’t believe in the cause, they just have one because of some pressure to have one

if you truly believe, you would be willing to make sacrifices, including some short term gains

there’s nothing wrong with the finite game

the infinite game is not the absence of finite games, or that finite games are bad

you have to play for the game you’re actually in (baseball vs. business)

the infinite game will continue with or without you

if someone says “we have this cause, BUT this other necessary evil

it’s not like you can’t have goals - they tell you how fast and how far you’re going, like mile markers on a marathon

infinite mindset - less like a race, more of a lifestyle

for ex: health goals, like “lose X weight by this date” - that helps motivate you, but if you miss the goal, it’s fine - the goal is there to help drive you forward and build the healthy lifestyle - so if that’s what you’re doing, you will eventually hit that goal, and you’re healthier now than when you started

business is the same - goals help motivate, while you’re building systems and developing people

Q: example of the CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally - “you are not the problem, you have a problem” - what a great mindset


he is an infinite-minded leader, hired to fix Ford (heading to bankrupcy)

had meeting with all senior execs, state of divisions - red/yellow/green - and everything was green

they’re losing money - something doesn’t line up - next meeting, same thing

next meeting - one guy changes status to red - “who can help him?”

next meeting - everyone surprised that guy (Mark Fields) is still there (previous CEO would have fired him) - and slowly, they get an honest picture of what is going on

how to fix the problem that we have?

Q: book is a roadmap for leaders to guide companies - what if you are an employee? quit? go somewhere else?


this is the most common question I get

you can’t change senior management - what you can do is worry about yourself and your group - be the leader you wish you had

leadership is not about rank or hierarchy

many people at the highest levels are not leaders (they have authority, so we listen to them) but we would not willingly follow them, and don’t trust them

people with no rank or authority, who look after the people to their left and right - we trust them, and follow them

all of us have the capacity to be that kind of leader

taking responsibility for those around us

one group becomes the group that everyone wants to work for

then people from that group branch out to other groups, and other companies - can change all of business, maybe in 10-20 years like this

Q: what is capitalism today?


regularly accused of being anti-capitalist (anybody who speaks against wall st is a socialist)

the brand of capitalism we have today (not Adam Smith free markets) is new - from the 70s, with Milton Friedman - business should maximize profit (within bounds of the law)

rise of shareholder supremacy in the 80s and 90s

mass layoffs in the 80s

incentivizing the executive based on value of equity, instead of success of the company

these are finite-minded ideas

these ideas put the needs of the organization ahead of the good they do for the people they are supposed to be serving

for ex: Glass-Steagall Act was passed after Great Depression, then dismantled in the 80s in the name of corporate profit

zero stock market crashes while this act existed, then 3 after it was dismantled - 1987, dot-com in 1999, 2008 financial crisis

forcing a finite model onto the infinite game of capitalism

believe in capitalism where humans are prioritized before numbers

put customers and employees ahead of investors (who will invest anyway, if you’re making money)

companies that perform better over time more-often-than-not are infinite-minded

Q: recent business roundtable - shareholders are no longer at the top


[quick search looks like this is what they’re talking about, probably]

he is cynical of this statement, about a stakeholder model

people in the release: Citibank, Johnson & Johnson, Prudential

why the sudden conversion? what happened that they saw the light - what is the story?

Q: are you optimistic that real change is coming?


yes, because CEOs like that are responding to pressure from people like us

there should be no demand for my work - trust and cooperation - would not have a career in the 80s and 90s

people are talking about these things, demanding to work for companies with purpose

things are moving in the right direction

are these companies from the BR statement not doing layoffs anymore?

CEOs regularly have to make decisions that are bad for the company, and avoid good decisions (open secret)

Q: what about companies that embrace this infinte mindset - WeWork for example - “no human ever feels alone” - they have significant trouble. Can you have infinite mindset and still do well?


were they actually following that mindset? high trust in the company? arrogance? room to grow?

looks like the trappings of success became more important than advancing the cause - started with infinite mindset, but moved to finite mindset

can they go back?

look at Microsoft - infinite, to finite (Ballmer), back to infinite (Nadella)

or Walmart - infinite, to finite (Mike Duke), back to infinite (Doug McMillon)

sometimes they don’t go back

Q: fifth book - what do you find happens when you’re giving this advice?


sounds like Hamilton :D

people who aren’t interested don’t invite him

so people aren’t combative - and avoids places where he is brought in for show

continued growing interest in these ideas

private companies are more flexible, and tend to embrace things

BUT - not easy to implement

for ex: get in shape - eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, look after your close personal relationships

infinite game is the same - they all sound simple, but they require lots of discipline and hard work

public companies struggle more - the pressure on those executives is overwhelming - boards play a large role in this

the challenges are vast, the pressure is great - the only way to succeed is to take care of each other, and help each other

Audience Q&A

Q: 2 parts - what do you do for self-care, and what do you do on a day off?


self-care - try to eat healthy, and exercise

take time for myself where I disconnect from everything

connected vacation is like you’re telecommuting from the beach - these days it’s like we have zero vacations, and zero evenings and weekends

don’t reply to emails until Monday

vacation - if there’s an emergency, the team can deal with it, because I’m on vacation

if you’re checking in all the time, it’s like you don’t trust your team

work-life balance - they are not opposing forces, so balance is the wrong analogy

same person at home and work - it’s all your life, no matter where you’re at - try to live a balanced life in general

take time off to look at art, or see theater - to challenge your brain to see the world differently

have ideas in places where you don’t expect

Q: does intention matter? like those CEOs that are coming out in support of having purpose beyond shareholders



we use words like authenticity, intention, purpose, flow, etc.

what is the birth of the motivation? for PR? for millenials? or is it something I fundamentally believe in?

would have liked to see some statements from the people who have already leading this way - Kip Tindell (container store), or Jim Sinegal (costco) - for decades

they have been criticized for this, but are better messengers, and have that deep intention

don’t want to build a better business for themselves - they want to build business better

don’t hoard an idea - they share it, because it’s good for the game, to perpetuate the game

if the intention is for all ships to rise, OK, but if it’s for my ship to rise, he is cynical of that

example: CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes (see this on article linkedin from Simon about that)

Q: you have been critical of phones before - is the cell phone addiction problem getting worse?


we seem to be getting more aware

but many addicts know that their addiction is bad for them

are we trying to kick the addiction?

over the next couple years, the younger generation may start to rebel, and put their phones away when spending time with friends

maybe companies will ban phones in meetings, restaurants ban phones, etc.

Q: are there red flags to indicate that you are playing the finite game, when you should be playing the infinite game?


if there are realistic metrics in the vision

moonshots - those are slippery, but they might be achievable

a great Just Cause is not achievable

infinite game != long game, AKA long term vision is not an endless vision

endless is the way to build an org for the long term

Q: hard-hitting question - talk about millenials in the workplace, and some millenials felt they were unfairly represented - would you have said anything differently?


no (laughter)

really inspired by the vast majority of positive comments

most of the backlash - “I’m not like that, you can’t generalize a generation like that”

yes you can

people who grew up during the great depression (grandparents), and second world war - that shaped their outlook

boomers who grew up in the 60s - Nixon and Vietnam, are cynical of authority because of that experience

millenials come of age at the millenium, where social media and cell phones are ubiquitous - affects your world view

not everyone is like that of course

it’s about the underlying system, not the individuals cases

there is an alarming increase of suicide among young people, specifically young girls

also an increase of bullying online - and things are filmed, which last forever

if your sense of validation comes from likes and followers, that affects how you make friends - many people have superficial friendships, and can’t rely on them in hard times

many schools now have wellness programs and therapists for children - nothing wrong with them, but

because universities are having to deal with young adults without wellness and coping mechanisms

there are many factors

like excessive short-term-mindedness, and lack of loyalty to employees

companies complain that millenials aren’t loyal to the company, but why should they be? the company gives them none - it’s just business

not against social media and cell phones - it’s about the amount, the imbalance of these in our lives

can’t go do dinner without checking our phones

no amount of yoga will fix work-life imbalance

we’ve taken these eastern practices (yoga, meditation), and made them into selfish pursuits - a very American thing

he was in a meeting once, and the person next to him (big yoga instructor), was constantly on her phone - and talking about how yoga helps her be present

you’re present when someone else says you are - so you can focus on the other person, listen and help them feel heard

practicing meditation & yoga is a service to others

on our phone engaging with someone who is not at the table at the expense of the person who is right there with you

we’ve forgotten the value and the act of service to others

Q: not a political question - but - what are your thoughts on universal basic income?


same correlation to finite-mindedness and short-term focus in politics

focus on a single idea, instead of the context where that exists

what vision does the idea serve? the idea is a strategy to go towards something - towards what?

all politicians are missing a distant, idealized, inspirational vision

past leaders talked about peace on earth - what is the dream?

just trying to pick the idea that resonates with the most people

the ideas may be right or wrong, and debatable - what is the bigger vision?

Q: corporate social responsibility seems to be an isolated part of a company, instead of how the business is conducted - what is the fix for that?


CSR is a fancy word for companies giving to charity - that’s a good thing

but it’s just part of a desire to live a good life

CSR is proof that they are a good company, meanwhile people hate working here and are all depressed

it’s not an equation - don’t balance a bad culture with gifts to charity

should be in context of everything else they do

you can tell if it’s window dressing

Q: what books are you reading now?


haven’t started, but James Carse wrote another book called “A Religious Argument Against Belief” [it’s on amazon of course]

Q: how can we prove that playing the infinite game is right, to wall street?


we don’t

you cannot control that which you cannot control

you’re not going to change the mind of someone whose entire incentive structure is to drive advice to benefit his income

what we can do is continue with the movement

the business roundtable is a coup for us - this would have been a joke in the 80s and 90s

when the rich and powerful say that “you don’t understand how business works”, we think that maybe they know, but there is a feeling that something isn’t right

but the thing is - they don’t know how business works, because it’s an infinite game

they’re playing the wrong game

that uncomfortable feeling we have - turns out we’re onto something

we have to be the leaders we wish we had - we will replace them when they retire and die - it’s a generational thing

America is built on a capitalist ideal that is not the capitalism we have today

it took 20-30 years to get where we are now, it will take 20-30 years to get back

Q: more examples of finite and infinite organizations?


there is no perfect infinite-minded org, or leader

things go in waves

Airbnb is trying to be more infinitely minded

Elon Musk speaks in idealized terms, and repeats this in multiple industries

Apple is more finite than is used to be - culture is more numbers-focused than before - products are good, but not revolutionary

it’s not a yes/no, good/bad thing, more about curiosity and context

play the game you’re in

and there are finite games within those infinite games

example: you’re told that you have to know your strengths and weaknesses

but - it depends on context

he is chronically disorganized, and tried all these systems - he collected business cards, but would lose the card and find it 2 weeks later - then call them up - and they want to work with him because they think he’s really busy :D

it’s about context - something that is valuable in one context is dangerous in another

you’re never a loser or winner - just ahead or behind