Having helped multiple companies with business, people and cultural transformation, I always get excited with each new venture because each culture is so unique.

Successful companies in my opinion, are those able to create a compelling vision of the future for their people and who use their culture to weave needed beliefs into the fabric of their existence. They take decisions with purpose, are committed to what they want, and act with resolve – as if they already had it.

Over the years, I have found that companies who struggle with growth and building enduring value, do so, because they are playing a finite game rather than the infinite one. The difference between a finite game and an infinite one is, in the infinite game, there are no rules, no winners, no time restrictions, the players keep changing, and everyone is a potential competitor. In fact, the only purpose of the infinite game, is your ability to adapt, learn, grow and innovate – so that you can keep playing while others get frustrated, exhaust their resources, lose patience or give up.

Most companies today, play a finite game and don’t see their world as changing. Their ability to grow and innovate, is limited by the convictions of their belief systems, knowledge or from experience. Success in such companies is usually measured as a factor of historical performance and determined against a select few they call competition. The problem with relying on your rear-view mirror as a guide to the future, is that where focus goes, energy flows, and before you know it, the future your trying to build, begins to look, sound and feel very much like your past. Even for those companies with a wealth of experience, it can be very hard to create a sustainable future by focusing on the past.

A wise man once said, we go the direction we face, and our direction determines our destination. While none of us can change destination overnight, we all can alter our direction, fairly immediately. For many companies, this change in direction happens when there is a shift in beliefs, or when there is a new meaning associated with an event or experience that cause them to take a different decision and arrive at a better, more sustainable destination.

It is amazing what a small change in direction can have on a company’s destination. It can be as subtle as the earth’s revolutions, yet as vital to maintaining our planet’s position in the solar system. As leaders, the questions we must ask ourselves are, what game am I playing in? Where do we want to be in 5 to 10 years? And what shifts must we make to our direction so that we arrive at a well-designed destination?

To answer some of these questions, let us take a closer look at some of the directional shifts in culture other leading companies are taking that are making headlines:

  1. The ability to paint a picture of the future and shape it in the present.

Airbnb : “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.” – Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb

When you walk into the Airbnb headquarters in Soma, San Francisco, you feel like you are stepping into a 21st century apartment – located in any developed nation of the world. As you begin exploring the architecture you realize how aligned this is with the mission of Airbnb, which is to create a world where you can belong anywhere. From a distance, workspaces look like a Kaleidoscope of colours and as you approach closer, these reveal the replica of the exemplary Airbnb homes from around the world, inclusive of an apartment that looks exactly like the founder’s apartment, from where the very idea took birth. Coming to the real assets of the Airbnb team, its employees, Mark Levy, explains that, the true values of living are not to be found on the walls of a home but in the heart of the owners, and so is the value of our company, which is not in its fiscal assets, but its employees.

  1. To persevere in the infinite game, learn from others and compete with yourself.

NIKE : “We have a culture where we are incredibly self-critical, we don’t get comfortable with our success.” – Mark Parker, CEO, Nike.

The culture of NIKE is best explained with a mention to the significant meetings, referred to by employees as brainstorming sessions. Employees of each unit, irrespective of their designation, regularly assemble to present ideas about how they can enhance NIKE’s products. Once all have shared their ideas, these are discussed and people are asked to vote and select ideas based on their profitability and their alignment to the brand’s fiscal analytics, in the present date. The conclusion of this process results in three to four realizable ideas being taken forward to design and development. According to Noah Murphy-Reinhertz, a designer and sustainability leader working as the centrifugal force to Nike’s innovation accelerator, explains that innovation promoted by Nike is nothing but the contribution of the team and their engagement in the idea generation process. In a freely interactive environment designers as well as team members have the freedom to engage with athletes to better understand their needs before coming up with a new design. Afterall, be it for the designers or for the athletes, the brand believes in individual perseverance.

  1. To arrive at a well-designed destination, create alignment across vision, potential and execution

Facebook: “I think as a company, if you can get these two things right — having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff — then you can do pretty well.” – Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

In 2003 when Facebook was founded under the name Face Mash in a silent dorm of Harvard University, Mark, the undergraduate founder decided to drop out of college to take the brand and dream forward. As leaders, the choices we make determine the direction towards our destination. From the arena of US Colleges to the world, from a small space in Palo Alto to the present date, Facebook has been practicing and delivering on its promise of transparency with fun. After being funded by the former Pay-Pal executive and hiring Sandberg, the culture of Facebook continues to be a blend of the serious and the jovial, where the achievement of outcomes – are better than ever. 

  1. To be different, think different, and harness potential from diversity.

Twitter : “Assume the best but hire paranoid people.” – Evan Williams, Co-Founder, Twitter

Being ourselves is something we all love. It acts as gravity to our minds. It is with this gravitas of an open culture that transcends people at Twitter, where there is respect for all, and individual and group contribution recognized at all levels through the organization. They believe if diversity can intersect individuality, it is exactly at the point of intersection, that you will find the team of Twitter and its culture. 

  1. Seek out the unknown with passion and excellence.

Apple : “Apple has a culture of excellence that is, I think, so unique and so special. I’m not going to witness or permit the change of it.“ -Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

From Jobs to Cook, Apple has been a brand ambassador of creativity and innovation. The culture of Apple prioritizes nurturing innovation above everything else and promotes challenging mindsets that question established conventions. The business structure supports coherence to changes in established leadership techniques while simultaneously creating new benchmarks for the industry, every day. With its aggressive appetite for technological development, Apple continues to master all technical fronts with top-notch excellence, creative quotient, innovation, privacy conservation and evolving combativeness and dedication.

What these examples of culture reflect is that there is no one formula for success, but rather what lessons we can take from each and with the right attitude, mindset and commitment towards change and growth, use to create shifts in direction within our own companies to achieve the outcomes we desire.

There’s no “right” culture, like there’s not one right way to live a life.

If you’re a business focused on the past or if you find yourself trapped in the finite game unable to change direction, then it’s time to take a decision. A decision to seek out new paths and embrace change with a passion. At Talent Multipliers we help companies find meaning to purpose and enable HR transformations that get you to a well-designed destination. If you like this article and are interested to know more, we would love to hear from you.  

More about the Author

Dominic Nair, CEO of Talent Multipliers is a people and culture strategist who partners with CEOs and business leaders to grow and transform human capital and deliver tangible business outcomes.

With over 25 years of experience and holding leadership positions across multiple industries in the private and public sector, Dominic knows what truly drives engagement and performance. It is how well an organization can harness potential and align purpose and action to create desired outcomes.

Over his career, Dominic has developed and led successful people and culture solutions and strategies across 50+ organizations in international markets. In addition to his extensive experience across HR, compensation and benefits, executive reward, leadership development and M&A, Dominic is also a business and leadership coach.

For information on how Talent Multipliers can support your business, visit us at www.tmultipliers.com.au or email dominic.nair@tmultipliers.com.au