• Edwin and George

History Repeats - If You Wish

Updated: Jul 13

People before Profits in the Infinite game.

by Mark Johnson


Those who know me well understand that beyond recruitment there’s a love of politics, economics and history. As part of my degree at University College London I studied European economic history of the early 20th century. It can be quite interesting.


For example, recently I noticed a burst of new books about America in the sixties and early seventies. It is a fascinating topic; particularly in light of what’s going on in the World now.


The tragedy of the Kennedys, the tale of Lyndon B. Johnson (the prize of being one of the greatest US Presidents cruelly snatched away by the Vietnam war and racial tensions at home) and the impeachment of Richard Nixon and Watergate.


History repeats.


We are now witnessing similar racial tensions and there is a President who many say is impeachable. And there are even lessons from the Vietnam war that we can learn from in these difficult times.

In his latest book ‘The Infinite Game, ‘Simon Sinek lays out these lessons when answering the question: “How could America win almost every battle in Vietnam , decimate the enemy and still lose the war??”


Sinek argues this happened, in part, because the Americans were playing a short-term game; going from battle to battle with no credible long-term objective. Not only were the soldiers on the ground unclear about the long term objective, the public at home and the politicians who sent the troops were equally uncertain. The Americans were hoping the game would come to an end and they could leave having won, whatever that meant (Finite mindset).


The Vietnamese, however, had a totally different mindset. They were playing a long-term game and were clear about their long-term objective: they were playing for their country and their lives. They had to stay in the game as long as possible. Even when in battle after battle they were defeated, their leadership re-grouped and never lost focus on their long term goal (Infinite mindset).


In the end, the Americans ran out of the will and resources to compete.


Although history can repeat, by studying it we can have the opportunity choose out paths.


I’m currently midway through Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari and loved a quote:

“This is the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies. Of course this is not total freedom — we cannot avoid being shaped by the past. But some freedom is better than none.”


Fast forward to today.


A couple of years ago we wrote about choosing the infinite game with regards to your career.

In the current crisis some companies have had no choice, they have had to take drastic decisions.


The fact is, for a company playing the Infinite Game, the only competitor that matters is itself.

Some companies, however, have had a choice – option one is to think short-term making cuts and redundancies in order that budgets and targets are met. Time will tell if there are longer term costs to this approach.


Option two is to act with the longer-term interests of the business in mind; actually seeing an opportunity to bring the team closer together, having confidence in the business model and the value it brings. The objective is to come out of the crisis stronger so ultimately they stay in the game longer.


At EGM we prefer playing the Infinite Game; making decisions that put our colleagues, clients and candidates long-term interests at heart.


Mark Johnson is a Partner at EGM Executive Search and Recruitment.


"100% SA owned and operated. We've brought the Executive Search and Recruitment industry into the 21st century.


Edwin George Merchant and Partners (EGM) is a modern Executive Search and Recruitment consultancy with a focus on excellence, business outcomes and continuous improvement." www.egmpartners.com.au

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