🇬🇧 “The Infinite Game”. Simon Sinek’s Mentality Church

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An “infinite game” is a type of process where the primary objective is to perpetuate the game itself by having a larger than life vision. There is no “winning” in the traditional sense and there are no time horizons. The main problem that the books wants to address is that leaders tend to engage in infinite games (building successful companies that outlive you, for example) with a finite game mindset. That’s it. This is the entire book. Like any other 300-page “big idea”, the rest is just filled with examples. However, I want to continue this post since I believe there are many problems with this trend in non-fiction. Let’s turn back to “The Infinite Game” for a second before that, as it will help me illustrate everything wrong with people like Simon Sinek.

If you can get past the exasperating over-use (or abuse?) of the words “mindset” and (albeit to a lesser extent) “leaders” and “inspire”, you will be rewarded for your herculean effort with a very idealistic and next to impossible to put into practice set of ideas. Just to give a banal example, in real life, investors will never subordinate potential gains to a vaguely defined “grater company vision”. The prose is so incredibly dull, simple, and ridden with repetition that it’s a miracle he published before. The content is nothing to write home about either. Like any other author of “big idea books”, Sinek pushes a framework that is so large he can easily overfit any example into it and makes use of sounds-right phrases to subtly keep your attention and legitimize his idea. He speaks about people who “define themselves by a cause greater than the products they sell”. Dreamy, isn’t it? Sinek does all of these constantly across his 200 pages. He stresses that true leadership is placing an emphasis on people rather than numbers and that an important resource for nay company is the will of its employees. Most of what he says can be placed under the “think long term rather than short” umbrella. He’s right about many things, such as when we underlines that we can’t turn off our feelings simply because we’re at work, for example. However, this whole thing feels like a blog post unnecessarily stretched to be the length of a book.

Simon Sinek represents an alarmingly growing group of online speakers and educators for whom I have coined the term mentality priests. The central tenet is that everything can get better or fixed, if we just change our mindset. You can find much more profound expressions of this idea in many other philosophies such as stoicism, Christianity, or Buddhism, but then you won’t get the author’s sweet, sweet one-solution-fits-all framework!

I have read quite a few of these books and they all suffer from the same problems. In mainstream self-help media, a (fake) guru comes along, uninvited, to propose to you a new mindset (🤢) or (ideological) framework for dealing with various problems in the world. However,

⁃ they are all forgettable, since there’s just too many of them

⁃ Beyond simplistic diagrams (for one must have simplistic diagrams and math-sounding mottos, such as Happiness = Purpose + Something …) there rarely lies the power to actually solve real life problems

⁃ There is no end to methods of looking at life’s major issues. The value of these frameworks is questionable at best

⁃ They tackle problems so vague and large that any example can be fit into the framework. Since any example can fit, authors impose their frameworks as interpretation for past events and a way of explaining the behaviour of famous historical figures, thus falsely painting a picture where the latter were actually following their framework. This subtle manipulation is of course done in an attempt to give their framework legitimacy.

Another personal development literature cliche that I want to draw attention on is the formula: vague positive word = vague positive word + vague positive word. In the case of this particular book, it is “culture = values + behaviour”. Although it gives the impression of great insight, it is a stylistic scam that works with any vague and/or positive sounding word in the entire language. Does love = trust + friendship? Maybe. It kinda sounds like it does, yeah. We have created an ideological market that rewards with our attention and admiration the cheapest platitudes. If you don’t believe me, conduct this experiment: make up such a formula as described above and post in on LinkedIn and Instagram, where development cliches thrive. See how many likes and shares it gets.

The problem with cliches is that they only give the illusion of insight and wisdom. Instead of challenging you to think deeply about difficult ideas, they serve overly positive and very general tropes to you, which are both hard to disagree with (is love not trust + friendship?) and already proved to work in order to garner attention, admiration, and money for the author.

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