Meta-Moments.

Meta-Moments.

By Marc Brackett

As we all know, our best attempts at calm, thoughtful reflection work only when we feel in control of our emotions. If you’re raging with resentment or crushed by disappointment, you’re probably not capable of the reasoning required to see a situation in a new light. You first need to bring down your emotional temperature, lower your activation, and give yourself the space required for rational thought. Maybe you take a few deep breaths, a few steps back, a walk around the block.

Then, maybe you’re ready for the Meta-Moment. A decade ago, Robin Stern, psychoanalyst and associate director of our center, and I were wondering why so many people in our society are addicted to strategies that derail them from achieving their goals. Robin had worked with hundreds of patients who were unsuccessful even after learning new tactics, and I observed schoolchildren and educators who didn’t employ the strategies they were learning, even when they knew they were helpful.

Many of us were exposed to destructive responses early in our lives–negative talk, screaming, blaming and so on. They require little cognitive control, and they’re often effective at getting rid of negative feelings and providing temporary gratification. But at the time, we fail to realize these strategies also can ruin our relationships and derail us from achieving our goals. 

So we developed a tool we call the Meta-Moment. In simplest terms, it’s a pause, a hitting of the brakes and stepping out of time. We call it meta because it’s a moment about a moment. It might mean mentally counting, as in “1, 2, 3,” or 1 to 10, depending on the severity of the emotion. Taking one or several deep breaths may also be a part of it–anything to give ourselves room to maneuver and deactivate.

A Meta-Moment is when we stop the action and say, “Am I hearing this correctly?” Or maybe we might say, “I need to pause and take a deep breath right now so I don’t blow my top, break down sobbing, or react in some way I will probably regret.” This helps us go beyond our first impulse and find a wiser response. As the author and consultant Justin Bariso put it, “Pausing helps you refrain from making a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.”

Pausing and taking a deep breath activates our parasympathetic nervous system. This reduces the release of cortisol, a major stress hormone, and naturally lowers our emotional temperature. Pausing also gives us the chance to quickly ask two useful questions: “How have I handled situations like this in the past?” and “What would my best self do right now?” 

To tap into their best selves, some people think of a set of adjectives such as “compassionate”, “intelligent” or “conscientious.” Other people picture an image or look at an object. A good friend who is the principal of a middle school has a Smurf on her desk to remind her to be her best self. Visualizing our best self can redirect our attention away from the triggering person, words or event and back towards our values. 

A couple of years ago, a student raised his hand in class and said, “I have a question that I don’t think even you’ll know how to answer.” To say that I was activated is an understatement–arrogance is a trigger for me. I wanted to reply: “I might not know the answer, but remember I grade your papers!” Instead, I reached into my “professor of emotional intelligence” self and asked, “How about if I get questions from some of the other students now, and we can chat after class?” Then, I politely informed him that his question could have been worded more diplomatically.

The Meta-Moment is not just for regulating unpleasant emotions. Sometimes our best selves help us to stand up for what’s right. Once, during a speech, a colleague bullied me in an unusual way–he joked about the fact that I was bullied as a child. My first impulse was to run onstage and deliver a flying dropkick to his head; I regressed to that middle schooler being pushed around in the locker room. But I took a Meta-Moment and I waited until after the presentation. I went up to him and said, “I have no idea what motivated you to say those words, but it wasn’t cool and you can’t ever do it again.”

How skilled are you at taking a Meta-Moment? What adjectives characterize your best self? What are your go-to strategies when you are triggered or caught off guard? Do you ignore your feelings, act out, or meet them head-on?

When your boss criticizes your work and you feel disappointed, devastated or resentful, how successful are you at taking a Meta-Moment and saying to yourself something like “Feedback is a gift, there is always something I can learn”? 

Here are the steps to take for a Meta-Moment.

  1. Sense the shift. You are activated, caught off guard, or have an impulse to say or do something you might regret. You feel a shift in your thinking or body or both.
  2. Stop or pause. Step back and breathe. Breathe again.
  3. See your best self. Think of adjectives or an image that helps your best self appear in vivid detail, or look at an object that reminds you. You might also think about your reputation: How do you want to be seen, talked about, and experienced? What would you do if someone you respect were watching you?
  4. Strategize and act. You reach into your tool kit of healthy responses — positive self-talk and reframing are two good options — and choose the path that will close the gap between your triggered self and your emerging best self. This should always be the last step.

Recently, after an exhausting day of delayed flights, missed connections and other irritations, I felt on the verge of a meltdown. So I asked myself: “If a college professor with a doctorate in psychology has difficulty regulating emotions, what must it be like for a nine-year-old child or an adult under genuinely challenging pressures who have had little to no training in emotion skills?” 

That calmed me down in a hurry. 

Along with permission to feel, we must also give ourselves permission to fail. When that happens, we can only try again — take a deep breath or two, envision our best selves, and start over. We also need the courage to apologize and forgive ourselves as we’d forgive others. Courage might even mean seeking professional help when all else fails. We’ll never stop having to work at being our best selves. But the payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, better everything.

Excerpted from Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thriveby Marc Brackett. Copyright © 2019 Marc Brackett. Reprinted with the permission of Celadon Books, a division of Macmillan Publishing, LLC.

Marc Brackett, PhD, is the founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, a professor in the Yale Child Study Center, lead developer of RULER, an evidence-based, systemic approach to social and emotional learning, and author of Permission To Feel

Celebrating the In-Between Times.

Celebrating the In-Between Times.

While celebrations are intended to honor life’s more momentous occasions, much of real life tends to happen during the in-between times. While moving from one moment in time to the next is seldom considered a significant occurrence, it is during those in-between times that we are most in tune with life’s most profound, albeit simple joys. Between birth and death, triumph and sorrow, beginnings and endings, we enjoy innumerable experiences that often happen unnoticed. These times are just as worthy of celebration. 

The in-between times are seldom about landmark moments. How you choose to celebrate them or which moments you choose to celebrate is up to you. You may want to celebrate the simple facts that you are alive and that every day is a chance to spend time with the people you care about or do the work that you love. Then again, when you look at the good that exists in your life, many reasons for celebrating the in-between times may become clear: a cup of your favorite tea, a beautiful sunrise, a good book, and the smell of fresh air can be reasons for celebration. 

Celebrating the in-between times can be as easy as paying special attention to them when they do happen, rather than taking them for granted. It’s your focus of attention that can turn an in-between time into a celebration. You can also pay homage to the in-between times by slowing down and allowing yourself time to look around and allow your heart and mind to take in all of your life’s wonders. Far too often, we can let those simple moments of awe pass us by. The in-between times are when life happens to us between the pauses that we take to honor our milestones occasions. Without the in-between times, there would be no big moments to celebrate.

BY MADISYN TAYLOR

Shift from Doing to Being.

Shift from Doing to Being.

By Christopher Lyddy and Darren Good

If you’re like most people, you’ve had the experience at work of sitting at your computer and suddenly coming to realize that you haven’t typed a word in ages. Instead, you may have just been mindlessly ruminating about a past incident with a colleague, or imagining the next encounter.

Getting “stuck” in this thought process, according to numerous interviews we conducted in a study of working professionals, can really interfere with being mindful at work. If this has happened to you, you’re not alone – in fact, it happened to everyone we spoke to. Our study helped us to understand when this happens – and how to get yourself out of this kind of thinking.

What is Doing mode?

Psychologists describe two different modes of mind: Being and Doing. Being mindful involves directly experiencing the present moment with acceptance, and as you likely know, is associated with a wide range of beneficial outcomes for workplace well-being, performance, and relationships (JOM). If we were only concerned about well-being, it would be easy to say “be mindful all the time.” They can’t simply be mindful “on the cushion” all day long. 

Yet while working, we need to think in order to act, and that’s where Doing mode comes into play.We use this mode to recall ideas and memories from the past, use them to process our present, and then plan for the future. This capability enables us to perform almost any kind of work. 

Using this mode, however, can be a trap. Often Doing mode shifts from helpful tool for planning action to “revving up” and dominating how we function. How does this play out? We become caught up in our concepts, our narratives, our selves, and our judgments and habits. We don’t just think through an email responding to our colleague, we become caught up in our own story about their faults and our interests, and then instead of writing an email correcting the issue, we write a nasty one pouring fuel on the fire. Just like in the example above, our thoughts rule us, keeping us from engaging the situation intentionally, and undermining how we feel and function. Doing mode offers only a limited set of tools, and often it’s the wrong mental toolbox for the task at hand. 

At times like these, we need less Doing and more Being – but how is this possible? Our interviews suggest the need to identify we are stuck in Doing mode, shut it down momentarily to activate our Being mode, and then re-engage with both modes active. We can then work in a more mindful way, with greater acceptance, intention, and effectiveness. Inspired by our research and emerging clinical psychology practices, we suggest doing a new practice to help you get out OUT of your Doing mode. 

How do we get OUT of Doing mode?

Specifically, we suggest doing what we call an OUT practice. This has three steps: Observe, Undo, and Transcend. How did our interviewees know they were getting stuck in Doing mode, and in those moments, how did they find a way to engage their Being mode? While our findings are preliminary, our interviewees reported a few steps for how they got unstuck. First, they noticed themselves getting caught up (or on the verge). Then, they disengaged and stepped back from whatever stream of thought and emotion was occurring. Sometimes this was a quick mindfulness practice, sometimes this was just an awareness they were stuck. Whichever they did helped reground them in the present, allowing the thoughts and emotions to dissipate, providing greater peace and intentionality. This allowed them to reengage their Doing mode, but within the context of Being. Based on these experiences, we now detail the suggested three-step process for dealing with these inevitable moments of getting stuck in our Doing mode.

O: Observe

The starting point for getting out of Doing mode is to Observe that you are stuck. This can be surprisingly difficult because a big part of being stuck is believing in the trap we have built for ourselves!

Here’s an example from our interviews capturing this experience. A restaurant owner described that: “Your brain is just on top of itself, telling you all that you’re doing wrong, that you need to be doing. I didn’t know how to quiet all that chatter. It was getting in the way of my creativity and functioning.”

Some emerging research points to hallmark signs of this state, which you can use to gain clarity and at least notice you are stuck in the trap. Two of the psychologists who pioneered Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) offer some ways to diagnose if you are stuck. Zindel Segal writes that “Whenever there is a sense of ‘have to,’ ‘must,’ ‘should,’ ‘ought,’ or ‘need to,’ we can suspect … doing mode.” His colleague Mark Williams describes the hallmarks of this phenomenon in four domains: thinking, feeling, action, and body. He suggests that when you tune into your experience, you can observe each, noting if you are, for example, ruminating about something bad in the past or fixated on some goal, avoiding feelings, acting on autopilot, or that your body is tense.

But rather than simply accepting words from other people, why not explore your own experience on this? Sometime today, pause for a moment and check-in. Do you experience yourself getting stuck in Doing mode? Is your mind revving about goals, fears, frustrations, or dissatisfaction? If so, you could be stuck! And that’s great, it’s an opportunity to Observe.

U: Undo 

So you’ve observed that you’re stuck in Doing mode and starting to notice the characteristics of this state. At this point, you can begin the second stage of an OUT practice: Undo.

Rather than selecting actions based on your overactive Doing mode, engage the situation first fully from your Being mode. Here’s what that looks like, according to an interview from an analyst with a demanding boss. She said, “My boss called me really angry with a list of things to do. Instead of immediately my brain going into ‘I don’t want to do that,’ it was kicking into ‘uh-huh. Yeah.’ Just taking it in. What mindfulness tells me is accept what’s coming in.” 

Undoing often involves straightforward mindfulness practice. You should stop conducting whatever action you are doing, then get grounded however you like to do this. You could mindfully breathe for 30 seconds. You could really tune in to one of your five senses, or focus your experience on whatever emotions you are feeling in that moment. Whatever you do, make sure you connect fully and richly with your present-moment experience. This step is all about being mindful, NOT about doing anything in the situation. 

T: Transcend

Where our advice goes beyond the clinical realm is recognizing that at work, you can’t simply shut off your Doing mode – you actually need it to work effectively. After you finish the Undo stage of the OUT practice, you need to “turn on” your Doing mode again – but from a different place, one grounded in the state of Being. This allows us to Transcend the limitations of being stuck in Doing. Instead, we experience Being While Doing, what our interviews show is the core experience of mindfulness at work.

What does this look like? A relief worker dealing with hurricane recovery found herself struggling to communicate and work with teammates. She reported that: 

I found myself getting upset. These thoughts were taking over, I assumed that there was going to be an issue. Instead of losing it, I was able to do meditation, and get to this calm place where I can really see the steps that I can be taking. I texted him, ‘Hey, did you get this and that?’ He was like ‘Sure did!’ In my mind, I had made it this big thing. It was never an issue.

In this situation, she was able to first Observe herself getting stuck in Doing mode, then Undo that desire to judge her teammate, and finally Transcend this by selecting actions from a more mindful place. This led her to identify and fix a miscommunication in a calm way, leading to better relationships with her colleagues, a better team outcome, and most of all, peace of mind. This is the essence of OUT practice – neither Being nor Doing by itself, but rather, finding a way to engage in what we call “Being While Doing” – enacted mindfulness at work.

D


Leaders fit for the Future.

Leaders fit for the Future.

Lee Waller, Viki Culpin, Sona Sharratt, Paula Bradbury

The path from a successful functional role to organizational leadership is well trodden and well known. In recent years though, navigating this path has begun to require an increasingly sophisticated set of skills, as the environment in which leaders lead has become significantly more complex and fluid. With the coming era of AI – when interaction between humans and machines will be critical, the skillsets leaders require will become more sophisticated still.

The generation of leaders whose skills and outlook were honed in the pre-digital, pre-globalization age, were operating in a relatively stable environment. Computer power and the internet had made life easier, but technology had not yet brought the market and societal disruptions heralded by the tech pioneers of the early 2000s and heightened during the past decade.  

Our recent research, culminating in our report Learning to Lead in the 21st Centuryfocuses on the capabilities and skills, and the forward-looking mindset, that today’s leaders need to succeed in a world characterized by rapid technological advance, globalization, changes in societal attitudes, and market disruption, not to mention economic and political volatility. It also considers the most effective means of developing those skills – which we will touch upon here.

What Today’s Leaders Wish They’d Known

528 executives, of diverse ages and experience were asked what cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural skills they wished they had gained ten years previously, that would have most increased their effectiveness as leaders now.

In order of prevalence, these were the top five capabilities perceived as important:

Relational SkillsLeading OthersEmotional IntelligenceTechnical SkillsConfidence

Participants also described critical incidents and events that had taught them valuable lessons. These were the top five mentioned:

ExperienceFailurePersonal DevelopmentTechnologyMajor Life Events

Participants also divulged that they didn’t know enough about, or didn’t possess enough of, the following:

Technical KnowledgeTraining & EducationUnderstanding of the OrganizationLeadership      SkillsCommunication &  Negotiation

These were the top five ways participants believed they might be able to develop their skills for the future:

Learning by DoingLearning through PeopleFormal LearningExtra-Curricular LearningA Growth Mindset

These were the five things participants thought most likely to derail career progression:

Lack of Knowledge & ExpertiseLow Emotional IntelligenceLack of ConfidenceNot Adapting to New Technology Poor   Communication   Skills

The Leadership Skills Needed Today

The participants point to a number of capabilities, essential for those now learning to lead, which they wish they had acquired ten years ago. Above all else they highlight the need for strong relational skills and the ability to communicate effectively in order to lead others. Acquisition of knowledge and expertise as well the development of greater emotional intelligence and confidence were key factors.

The ability to understand and adapt to new technology was a priority stressed by many. The importance of learning from failure and the value of feedback were also highlighted, both being seen as confidence-boosting (and confidence being something a great many participants wish they had had more of, earlier in their careers).

To operate effectively in a volatile, fast changing environment, two other key capabilities were suggested by the research. First, the need to have a ‘growth mindset’ – one that enjoys a challenge, seeks new opportunities and constantly seeks to learn. And secondly, the importance of ‘learning agility’ – which can be defined as curiosity and the ability to adapt well to change and new ideas. Both these capabilities, which rely heavily on learning from experience and from the evolving environment, are capabilities which embrace and welcome innovation and change, and are thus clearly essential for leadership success in the 21st Century.

Acquiring Skills and Learning to Lead

In our research we found that the development being offered needs to be tailored, both in terms of seniority and gender. Younger leaders and less senior leaders emphasised a need or preference for formal development, whereas older or more senior leaders emphasised on-the-job learning.

The 70:20:10 principle – the idea that development comes 70% from on-the-job experiences; 20% from feedback from colleagues and the boss; and 10% from formal training – may need rethinking. In today’s fast paced environment, where keeping up-to-speed with the latest knowledge, technologies, and expertise are key, formal development may have a greater role to play. For the younger participants, formal development came out as the top theme, with first line and middle managers reporting education and training as the most valuable factor supporting their career success.

L&D professionals should consider offering more formal development opportunities directed towards junior and middle level roles within organizations. Whereas to develop older and more senior leaders, emphasis should be placed on identifying experiential, on-the-job learning opportunities and coaching.

Gender differences were also present here, in terms of the skills participants considered important to future success. Perhaps counter-intuitively, female participants were more concerned about a lack of emotional intelligence while male leaders were most concerned about a lack of knowledge and expertise.

Conclusions

A number of lessons can be drawn from our research: the importance of relational skills to performance throughout a leadership career; the need for a growth mindset and learning agility; and the ever-present need to up-date knowledge, and adapt to new technology; the importance of experiential learning; and the need for formal development – perhaps more than is generally given.

Learning these lessons successfully relies of course on individual application – with the support of L&D professionals tailoring learning. Paramount even to that though, is organizational culture. An organization able to address these issues is one that encourages the development of agile learning and growth mindsets by developing a culture that fosters trust, respect and psychological safety, supports risk taking and entrepreneurial behavior, and emphasizes continuous learning.

Slowing down.

Slowing down.

By Madisyn Taylor

When we rush through our days and lives, we fail to notice the simple beauty of living.
When we rush through our days and lives, we fail to notice the simple beauty of living.

Throughout our lives, we are taught to value speed and getting things done quickly. We learn that doing is more valuable than merely being, and that making the most of life is a matter of forging ahead at a hurried pace.
Yet as we lurch forward in search of some elusive sense of fulfillment, we find ourselves feeling increasingly harried and disconnected. More importantly, we fail to notice the simple beauty of living.

When we learn to slow down, we rediscover the significance of seemingly inconsequential aspects of life. Mealtimes become meditative celebrations of nourishment. A job well-done becomes a source of profound pleasure, no matter what the nature of our labors. In essence, we give ourselves the gift of time–time to indulge our curiosity, to enjoy the moment, to appreciate worldly wonders, to sit and think, to connect with others, and to explore our inner landscapes more fully.

A life savored slowly need not be passive, inefficient, or slothful. Conducting ourselves at a slower pace enables us to be selective in how we spend our time and to fully appreciate each passing moment. Slowness can even be a boon in situations that seem to demand haste. When we pace ourselves for even a few moments as we address urgent matters, we can center ourselves before moving ahead with our plans.

Embracing simplicity allows us to gradually purge from our lives those commitments and activities that do not benefit us in some way. The extra time we consequently gain can seem like vast, empty stretches of wasted potential. But as we learn to slow down, we soon realize that eliminating unnecessary rapidity from our experiences allows us to fill that time in a constructive, fulfilling, and agreeable way. We can relish our morning rituals, linger over quality time with loved ones, immerse ourselves wholeheartedly in our work, and take advantage of opportunities to nurture ourselves every single day.

You may find it challenging to avoid giving in to the temptation to rush, particularly if you have acclimated to a world of split-second communication, cell phones, email and overflowing agendas. Yet the sense of continuous accomplishment you lose when you slow down will quickly be replaced by feelings of magnificent contentment.

Your relaxed tempo will open your mind and heart to deeper levels of awareness that help you discover the true gloriousness of being alive.
What NOT to take.

What NOT to take.

There’s a great line in hiking circles: “Backpacking is the art of knowing what NOT to take.”

When you go out camping in the wilderness, you have to carry everything with you on your back. And with a physical ceiling of only thirty or forty pounds at most, that adds up quickly, especially if you’re going out for more than a couple of days.

And if you’re going desert camping, where you have to carry your water as well (you need about a gallon- 8 lbs- per person per day, or 56 lbs per week). So natch, you have to be very selective with what you put in your backpack. 

This means focusing on essentials: good food, good solid footwear, good shelter and sleeping bags, something reliable to start a fire with… Basically, good gear and grub, in general.

This is what you’d call “principles”. You may not be prepared for every contingency, and you probably won’t know what they are in advance anyway, but with good gear and proper food, at least you’ll be in a better position to respond when the time comes.

Ditto with parenting. You may not be able to prepare your children for every bad thing that happens to them, but if you impart them with good *principles*- politeness, fitness, work ethic, discipline, sociability, honesty etc, they’ll be better navigate the minefield that is life.

And in times of great change, the same rules apply. Yes, automation is coming. Yes, the changes to the working world are going to be massive. But the question isn’t really about what companies should you invest in, or what jobs exactly will be eliminated… …But what principles should we cultivate?

This fellow says it well: “To Prepare for Automation, Stay Curious and Don’t Stop Learning”.

Exactly.
Playing the infinite game.

Playing the infinite game.

From Simon Sinek’s “The infinite game”.

If there are at least two players, a game exists. And there are two kinds of games: finite games and infinite games.

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.

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.

If we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it’s as if they don’t know the game in which they are playing.

My understanding of these two types of games comes from the master himself, Professor James P. Carse, who penned a little treatise called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility in 1986. The more I looked at our world through Carse’s lens of finite and infinite games, the more I started to see infinite games all around us, games with no finish lines and no winners. There is no such thing as coming in first in marriage or friendship, for example. We can beat out other candidates for a job or promotion, but no one is ever crowned the winner of careers. Though nations may compete on a global scale with other nations for land, influence, or economic advantage, there is no such thing as winning global politics. No matter how successful we are in life, when we die, none of us will be declared the winner of life. And there is certainly no such thing as winning business. All of these things are journeys, not events.

However, if we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it’s as if they don’t know the game in which they are playing. They talk constantly about “winning.” They obsess about “beating their competition.” They announce to the world that they are “the best.” They state that their vision is to “be number one.” Except that in games without finish lines, all of these things are impossible.

When we lead with a finite mindset in an infinite game, it leads to all kinds of problems, the most common of which includes the decline of trust, cooperation, and innovation. Leading with an infinite mindset in an infinite game, in contrast, really does move us in a better direction.

The game of business fits the very definition of an infinite game. We may not know all the other players, and new ones can join the game at any time. All the players determine their own strategies and tactics, and there is no set of fixed rules to which everyone has agreed, other than the law (and even that can vary from country to country). Unlike a finite game, there is no predetermined beginning, middle, or end to business. Although many of us agree to certain time frames for evaluating our own performance relative to that of other players — the financial year, for example — those time frames represent markers within the course of the game; none marks the end of the game itself. The game of business has no finish line.

In a finite game, the game ends when its time is up and the players live on to play another day (unless it was a duel, of course). In an infinite game, it’s the opposite. It is the game that lives on, and it is the players whose time runs out. Because there is no such thing as winning or losing in an infinite game, the players simply drop out of the game when they run out of the will and resources to keep playing. In business, we call this bankruptcy or sometimes merger or acquisition. Which means that to succeed in the infinite game of business, we have to stop thinking about who wins or who’s the best and start thinking about how to build organizations that are strong enough and healthy enough to stay in the game for many generations to come. The benefits of which, ironically, often make companies stronger in the near-term as well.

Victorinox, the Swiss company that made the Swiss Army knife famous, saw its business dramatically affected by the events of September 11, 2001. In an instant, the ubiquitous corporate promotional item and standard gift for retirements, birthdays, and graduations was banned from our hand luggage. Whereas most companies would take a defensive posture — fixating on the blow to their traditional model and how much it was going to cost them — Victorinox took the offense. They embraced the surprise as an opportunity rather than a threat — a characteristic move of an infinite-minded player. Rather than employing extreme cost cutting and laying off their workforce, the leaders of Victorinox came up with innovative ways to save jobs (they made no layoffs at all), increased investment in new product development, and inspired their people to imagine how they could leverage the brand into new markets.

In good times, Victorinox built up reserves of cash, knowing that, at some point, there would be more difficult times. As CEO Carl Elsener says, “When you look at the history of world economics, it was always like this. Always! And in the future, it will always be like this. It will never go only up. It will never go only down. It will go up and down and up and down… We do not think in quarters. We think in generations.” This kind of infinite thinking put Victorinox in a position where it was both philosophically and financially ready to face what for another company might have been a fatal crisis. And the result was astonishing. Victorinox is now a different and even stronger company than it was before September 11. Knives used to account for 95% of the company’s total sales. (Swiss Army knives alone accounted for 80%.) Today, Swiss Army knives account for only 35% of total revenue, but sales of travel gear, watches, and fragrances have helped Victorinox nearly double its revenues compared to the days before September 11. Victorinox is not a stable company—it is a resilient one.

In the infinite game, the true value of an organization cannot be measured by the success it has achieved based on a set of arbitrary metrics over arbitrary time frames. The true value of an organization is measured by the desire others have to contribute to that organization’s ability to keep succeeding, not just during the time they are there, but well beyond their own tenure. While a finite-minded leader works to get something from their employees, customers, and shareholders in order to meet arbitrary metrics, the infinite-minded leader works to ensure that their employees, customers, and shareholders remain inspired to continue contributing with their effort, their wallets, and their investments.

Players with an infinite mindset want to leave their organizations in better shape than they found them. They play to keep playing. In business, that means building an organization that can survive its leaders.


From The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Sinek Partners, LLC.