Playing The Infinite Game

playing an infinite game

I learned a lesson in sales when I was VERY new to the game.  I had probably been selling for only a couple of months when I encountered my first problem order.  The details are not incredibly important.  But suffice it to say that my customer was not happy.  The problem was, I thought it was his fault.  Well…mostly his fault.  I had done nearly everything right.  But the customer wanted me to re-print the order.

I stood my ground at first.  Then I talked to my mom.

My mother had sold to this gentleman before.  So she knew the kind of customer he could be.  Her advice to me was pretty simple.  “Just re-do the order.”  I protested, explaining my position that this was not my fault.  She listened and shrugged.  “You might be right,” she said.  “You might win the argument, but you will lose the customer.”

I re-did the order.  Then I proceeded to sell him orders for the next ten years.

This was a powerful lesson that I am so glad I learned early in my career.  I talk quite a bit to our team at Hasseman Marketing about it.  I tell the team that we want to create “20-year customers”. We don’t want to just create a transaction…we want to create a relationship.  This is not just a pithy saying, we really do try to live by this.

I was reminded of this lesson recently when reading the Simon Sinek book “The Infinite Game.”  Sinek tells us that there are two types of games.  The first is a Finite game.  In a Finite game, we know the number of players.  We also know the rules.  There is a beginning, a middle, and an end to a Finite game.  There are also winners and losers.  Football is a Finite game.  So is chess.

The other type of game is an Infinite Game.  In this type of game, we don’t know how many players there are and we have not agreed on a set of rules (for the most part).  There is no specific winner and loser.  The goal is just to maintain the resources to keep playing.  Business is an Infinite Game.  So is fitness and learning and parenting.

The problem people run into is when they try to play in Infinite Game using Finite Game rules.

When we try to run our business as “win or lose,” we tend to create transactions.  We make short-term decisions that are not always in the best interest of our long-term success.  We hear about this all of the time by companies that are focused only on the stock price.  They make decisions that will create a boost in the numbers, but they hurt the credibility of the organization.

It’s what I was going to do with that problem order.  I wanted to “be right.”  I needed to ask “What do I win by winning?

Instead, my mother reminded me to make an Infinite Game decision. Oh sure, she didn’t call it that.  But her advice was spot on.  It’s important to understand what type of game you are playing if you want to succeed.

If you want to do Business Better, please check out Better Business University.  It’s the affordable online business education platform designed to help you level up (without breaking the bank).  Head here to learn more and sign up.

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