Game theory relating to business: what’s Sinek on about NOW!

Are you in “the game”?

It’s been several years now since Simon Sinek launched his “Gold Circle” theory (“Start with why” was the name of his book published in 2009). The original theory was based around getting customers (and Management) buy in to an idea to gather momentum to overcome the “chasm” under the diffusion on innovation by getting early adopters to get others to join your cause… whatever it may be…

It is a point of fact that this is how Simon himself sold his idea to the masses; by pitching purely at early adopters, who are the group that “believe” things can work, even if they are not sure how it works. They say YES, and work out how to do it later.

Early adopters sound like this: “I BELIEVE”; “I believe YOU can…”; I believe WE can…”; I believe the world is…”.

When he was asked why he believed, and how he would do it, Simon had a beautiful that tugged at the emotions of people worldwide by saying:

“Martin Luther King didn’t give the ‘I have a plan’ speech!”.

This was effectively what jumped Simon’s theory over the chasm as it made sense to the Early Majority in the business community.

The centuries old philosophy of “I think, therefore I AM”, popularised in business culture by Napoleon Hill in “Think and grow rich”, meant that Simon just got acceptance from 1/3 of the general population that didn’t have to know “how” how to do it, just “what” to do. Hello sheep! The rest is, now, history (or more correctly, “His” story).

So before going on to game theory (as Simon seems to have), I will get you to self-assess where you sit on the diffusion of innovation scale to see where you fit.

The book was released in 2009, so when did you start to understand it (not just hear about it): 

2009 = Innovator

2010 = Early Adopter

2013 = Early majority

2016 = Late majority

2017 = living under a rock


Back to game theory. Basically, Simon explains it as there are two types of games:

  • Finite games – set known rules that everyone understands, with a limited number of player and has a start and an end, and the intent is to “Win”.
  • Infinite games – Unknown dynamic rules, unlimited number of players, with no set timeframe, and the intent is to survive.

So, what’s the problem?

Well when you pit a finite player against an infinite player, you get quagmire, neither achieve the goals.

A finite player “wins” if they destroy the infinite player, or the infinite player lets the finite player win (to live to fight another day); herein lies the problem, and it comes down to mindset.

The problem for business

As a “project” is defined as having a definite ending, finite games use “positive contingency” planning as part of project management processes. based around achieving milestones, celebrating small wins, joy is created when finite players get to implement their contingency plan, so it is seen as a more positive mindset.

Whereas the infinite player believes, as Einstein did, that a theory can NEVER be proven, but it can always be disproven. As the infinite playing has a goal to survive, it comes down to Darwin’s “natural selection”, so the infinite player must adapt to the environment, usually created by the finite player. The infinite player has a “negative” contingency plan, so enacted when already in pain to prevent further pain.

This is applied in Business as looking after the “Marketing mix”, known as the 4 P’s. All an infinite player must do is make sure there are no weaknesses in the 4 P’s and they achieve their goals. The 4P’s have themselves also been expanded to 7P’s, so infinite players already have to adapt from their long-held beliefs to survive in a modern business.

That’s fine you say?

How many businesses out there don’t shift their focus to their strength? It might create a weakness if you only focus on the strength, right? But what type of business only focuses on preventing weaknesses? Here’s a hint; that’s what insolvency practitioners do, so would you consider this a sustainable business practice, let alone a strategy for growth?

A Negative contingency plan is designed to prevent pain, so when it is needed this means infinite player already in pain. Stopping the pain doesn’t make an infinite player happy; just makes them “not sad”. Where it relates to mindset is:

“The absence of illness doesn’t mean you are healthy (or happy).”

A finite player would argue that cancer is an illness, and you can have cancer and still be considered healthy, if you focus on your strengths. This may be a tact taken to motivate an infinite player to try and do better. Using this analogy however, the finite player has basically (and usually unwittingly) just said to the infinite that in the business context, cancer has treatments to manage and can be removed, giving the infinite player an idea on how to achieve their goal; Remove what the infinite player sees the cancer from their organisation… AKA, the finite player.

Not very conducive to team building, is it?

What’s the solution?

Can you think your way out of this?

The treatment of the mindset issue is psychological, but the solution is a biological change, creating different thinking, which science has now shown creates new neural pathways, so a change in human biology in both males and females.

You must maintain this thinking to allow the neural pathways to hardwire a connection, and the old pathways (and old natural thinking) to dissolve as the body reallocated this resource. This takes months, not just the 21 days it is said to take under a popular theory to build or break a habit.

Simon Sinek’s golden circle theory, and the graphic of the concentric circles he used, was representative of parts of the human brain, which research into emotional intelligence confirmed Sinek is basically pointing toward the functions of the Amygdala (why) and the prefrontal cortex (What).

So while there is a “perceived” risk to the players, without even knowing it, a finite player will “flight or fight”, and the third option the Amygdala has will usually be the reaction of the infinite player, who can freeze and just wait it out.

Firstly, the player must realise this hijack is occurring, then the treatment for an Amygdala hijack is for the prefrontal cortex to reason it’s way out of the perceived threat, and implement a contingency plan.

Whether it is a negative or positive contingency plan in this case is again biological pre-determine. When the body is in survival mode it will follow the path of least resistance, and that includes neural pathways. There has also be research into the two sides of the Amygdala; the side that produces aggressive behaviour when under stress is far more active in Men than in Women, which may explain why the fight response is more common from a predominantly male management team.

Positive and negative contingency planning are done with different sides of the prefrontal cortex, so the type of contingency plan that with get a player back in control, and out of fight, flight, or freeze response, is predetermined by what is referred to as a person’s emotional “set point”.

As it is a biological condition, it is beneficial to leaders to identify if team members are a finite or infinite gamers to advise a course of action.

Simply telling an infinite player that they need to…

“think positively”

… will not help and may even delay any decision making by keeping the Amygdala in control. Infinite players physically can’t think fast enough with that side of their brain.

But a finite player, use to more positive thinking, has the opposite problem, with the same result. People that are overly positive have less ability to differentiate between a weak and strong argument, so finite players are unlikely to decide on a quality course of actions as they effectively have no “devil’s advocate” to keep them in check in their own mind.

Here’s where the value of teamwork comes in.

As both the finite and infinite players are in survival mode, the advantage swings to the infinite player as that is their natural thinking is “reactive”, so they are likely to recognise the issue first and get back in control.

The hero in conflict between gamers is the introverted infinite gamer due to the fact they have such strong connections as their normal state is to remove themselves from pain, quickly, and sometimes instantly, making them the first voice of reason for the whole team.

Introverted infinite gamers are unlikely to want to help, unless they have high empathic concern and practice the “servant leadership” style.

Modern organisations are instructing leaders to only talk 30% of the time, and listen 70%, which means introverts are more suited to the servant leadership style. Although extroverts only make up 40% of the population, they take up 80% of the airtime, so are becoming less likely to be seen a leadership material.

An extrovert can act like an introvert, but it is not sustainable as they can’t “become” one. Introversion/extroversion is again a biological condition. One is not better than the other; they just have different purposes and suit different situations.

But here’s the thing game theory…

Do you know who research has found is biologically higher empathic concern except, for the top 10% of performers? Females; Which means that if game theory comes into excepted business management, the deck is stacked towards the female leadership style. Not out of gender equality for females, it’s out of the biological competitive advantage. Except for when competing with the top 10% of males that is.

So, the real superhero in resolving conflict between finite and infinite gamers seems to be an introverted infinite female gamer.

Even if you are not into sport!…

What do the best and worst sporting teams do differently? Nothing! The best teams just do the same things better. That is true for finite or infinite gamer. Finite gamers must do better, and repeatedly, to keep the competition running; ironically for the infinite players who are willing spectators in the crowd, cheering for finite players to keep going harder, faster, stronger, longer (the Olympics’ motto)

So, under game theory, women are not in business to make up the numbers, they are now well and truly in the game. Ladies, if you didn’t like Simon Sinek before, I bet you love him now….

It’s not all doom and gloom! Males have higher cognitive empathy, which relates to problem solving ability, so I’m sure men will work out what they need to do. Although, there is one thing the “I think therefore I am” mindset doesn’t change; intelligence. Just because YOU think you’re smart, doesn’t mean you are.

The ability to climb a tree is not a measure of intelligence; knowing why you need to climb it is.

People need to decide if they want to try and grow arms and legs to climb a tree, or stay in their current environment are and grow a bigger pair of gills to improve (performance).

One is not better than the other, it’s just different. Different thinking. Acceptance of that, is acceptance of neurodiversity and different thinking.

The whole World could use more of that!

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