When I look back, there is one clear distinction between my successes and failures. Whenever I have tried to keep short-term objectives (like I did in Nayi Disha), I have failed. The times when I have focused on the long future, I have done well.
Setting goals only a year or two in the future is very tempting. But the consequence is that the decisions will then also suffer from short-termism. There is no grand plan to create something big, no journey that is the draw. It is all about “let’s get this done and move on.” That rarely works.
In Nayi Disha, I had goals that I set for a year at a time. Create a movement to change India’s Constitution. Failed. Replace Mumbai’s Municipal Corporation Act to make the city free. Failed. Make Dhan Vapasi happen by forming a government of Independents. Failed. Each had a timeline of a year and failed. Had I stuck to one thing for the long-term (for example, changing minds on what can make Indians free and rich), I would have perhaps accomplished something. In reality, after 3 years of effort, I had nothing to show for it.
The same was true early in my career when I ran through a succession of ideas – and each failed. A multimedia database. Reselling software from US companies. An image processing solution. All in less than three years.
But when I started IndiaWorld, I had no finish line. The Internet revolution had just begun. I had many ideas. But the broad premise stayed the same through the five years until it was acquired – to create an electronic marketplace connecting Indians worldwide.
I did have a name to describe this mindset until I read Simon Sinek’s book “The Infinite Game.” Writes Sinek:
Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. Football, for example, is a finite game. The players all wear uniforms and are easily identifiable. There is a set of rules, and referees are there to enforce those rules. All the players have agreed to play by those rules and they accept penalties when they break the rules. Everyone agrees that whichever team has scored more points by the end of the set time period will be declared the winner, the game will end and everyone will go home. In finite games, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end.
Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.
Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as “winning” an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.
The world of business and entrepreneurship is an infinite game. This “forever business” mindset is what helps proficorns succeed.
Tomorrow: My Proficorn Way (Part 13)