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To Infinity and Beyond

By Bob Priest-Heck

It’s amazing the extent to which sports analogies have infiltrated the language of business. We hit home runs, slam dunk presentations, and complain about moving the goalposts. In these analogies, it’s all about winning and losing. But these analogies reinforce a short-term look at success that really doesn’t support a sustainable future.

When I think about containing the Coronavirus, I don’t think about “winning.” Lives have already been lost. There will be no dancing in the end zone. We need to take a thoughtful, long-term view about how best to contain COVID-19, protect those in harm’s way, and mitigate the damage to people’s lives, communities and businesses.

I think it’s telling that contemporary business writers have abandoned ball-sports metaphors and now lean into game theory to better understand what’s really at play. Both “Finite and Infinite Games,” by James P. Carse, and “The Infinite Game,” by Simon Sinek distinguish between playing to win, and playing to keep playing.

Companies focused on the Finite Game — making money and getting out — set their priorities in this order: revenues/profits, then customers, and lastly their people. It’s a “won and done” perspective. Those playing an Infinite Game know that if their people are their first priority, their customers will be taken care of, and the revenues and profits will follow. It’s the virtuous cycle played out into infinity.

Freeman has been playing the Infinite Game for 93 years and has put in place plans that allow us to build for the next 90 years and beyond. Our values are constant — our strategic imperatives are mutable. It’s about taking the long-view, staying nimble, and changing the rules of play organically as things unfold. The goal is to do what’s required to allow continued game play — which means keeping our customers and their customers in the game. It’s collaborative. It’s consensual. It’s communal.

This must be our approach in addressing the Coronavirus. We must listen to everyone with a stake in the game. And this, in a nutshell, is our advice to show organizers: listen to your constituents. They need to have confidence that you have their best interest at heart. Take the long view. Obviously, if your event poses a general health risk, the decision is easy — you need to consider alternatives. And there are myriad options and solutions that can be designed on a case-by-case basis in order to serve the most people’s needs and allow the most people to stay in the game.

We also hosted a webinar on March 5 with a panel of industry experts, including representatives from the U.S. Travel Association, to discuss best practices for business continuity. We discussed various scenarios to determine if an organization’s event is impacted — as well as what factors their leadership should evaluate when accessing those risks. To view a replay of that webinar and more, please visit our Coronavirus resource page.

Let’s work together to keep our people and our industry healthy and viable long into the future.

See you online.

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