To kick off 2020 I am talking to Simon Sinek, who is best known for popularizing the concept of “why” in his 2009 TED talk. To date, it is the third most-watched talk at with over 40 million views. Simon is the author of several best-selling books, including “Start With Why,” “Leaders Eat Last,” and “The Infinite Game,” which was released in October of 2019.

For those who are long-time listeners to this podcast, my first question may surprise you. Instead of my usual beginning, I asked Simon one simple thing: What is your “why”?

“My ‘why’ is to inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so together each of us change our world for the better.”

There really was no other way to begin the conversation. Simon has been speaking about the importance of “why” since 2005, when he “fell out of love” with his marketing career and began speaking publicly about the importance of “why” to friends, and eventually friends-of-friends. The organic growth of his ideas eventually caught the attention of the US Air Force, and by mid-2006 he was invited to speak at the Pentagon and military bases across the US.

Simon has continued to be influential in the world of leadership, and I have personally been a fan for a long time.  He’s taken the concept of “why” even further, encouraging everyone to find a “just cause,” even if it’s from the vision of someone else.

“[O]nly two percent of the world’s population are visionary. Not everyone is, you know, Elon Musk or Richard Branson. But you get to find a vision. You have to find a vision. So maybe it’s a vision that somebody else articulated that inspires you, that you want to commit your energy and your work and your company to help advance. Whatever it is and wherever it comes from, you have to be able to state it with words.”

“Remember ‘why’ comes from the past, it’s the foundation. But a just cause is the future. It’s where you’re going.”

So, where is Simon Sinek going? As he strives to inspire others and change the world, his latest focus has been on helping others play the “infinite game as opposed to a “finite game.” When we look at the world through the lens of winning or losing, we’re thinking in terms of a finite game, where there are rules and a clear ending. But the work we do—from building companies to developing ourselves—don’t have a clear “winner” or “loser,” or final end date.

“[T]he problem is, is when we play with a finite mindset in the infinite game, we hurt trust, we hurt cooperation, and we hurt innovation. So we have to play for the game we’re actually in and in business, business is an infinite game. There is no finish line.”

Join us as we discuss how to shift your mindset from finite to infinite, the role of worthy rivals, and how becoming the leader you wish you had can change the future of a company.

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Takeaways from this episode:

  • What is Simon Sinek’s “Why?” To inspire people to do the things that inspire them, so together each of us change our world for the better.
  • Simon’s family moved all over the world, from England to South Africa, Hong Kong, and eventually New Jersey. Simon credits his adaptability to constantly finding himself in new cultures where he and his sister were misfits.
  • After falling “out of love” with his job in marketing, Simon began speaking with friends about the concept of The Golden Circle and the importance of “why” leaders and companies do what they do. Eventually, he began sharing this information in living rooms of friends of his friends, and the concept grew organically from there, resulting in Simon being invited to the Pentagon and military bases across the US.
  • When asked about his biggest challenges, Simon stated that he doesn’t “think in those terms. I don’t think about the obstacles. I think about the opportunities. So I’m not looking for the things that are challenges. I’m looking for the things that are possible.”
  • For true leadership, you need to get to know people. Simon advocates for roaming the halls and interacting with your team. If you’re virtual, use video or phone calls instead of email so you will get to know your team members better.
  • Simon’s newest book, The Infinite Game, focuses on the fact that while there are finite games—situations with known players, fixed rules, and agreed upon objectives—most of our lives are measured with infinites games, where there are no defined players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to perpetuate the game.
    • It is not possible to “win” an infinite game. The metrics and timeframes are left up to each individual, making the numbers be whatever you want them to be.
    • When we have a finite mindset in an infinite game, we “hurt trust, hurt cooperation, and we hurt innovation.”
    • “[Y]ou can’t control that which you cannot control. The only thing we can control is ourselves. And so the opportunity there is to become the leader you wish you had, to show up every single day to create an environment in which the people that you work with, whether they’re subordinate or superior, or, or peers… come to work every day, inspired to be there, feel safe there, psychologically safe and return home fulfilled. That they feel like we have their backs and that we would support them and we’re there to help them grow.”
  • Humans are social animals. Trust is essential to us, so we foster deep, meaningful relationships.
  • Operate with empathy and show up with curiosity.
  • “Worthy rivals” in business reveal to us our own weaknesses. They make us uncomfortable, and instead of looking at ourselves we direct the energy into competitive energy.
  • “If we choose to live our lives with a finite mindset, it means we make our primary purpose to get richer or promoted faster than others. To live our lives with an infinite mindset means that we are driven to advance a cause bigger than ourselves. We see those who share our vision as partners in the cause and we work to build trusting relationships with them, so that we may advance the common good together.”

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