For the past 7 years, we’ve been working on our mission to accelerate solar energy through software solutions, and steadily we are progressing to worldwide impact. But we don’t only care about what we achieve. We also feel very strongly about how to achieve it, rooted in our cultural values. 

Our primary cultural value was suggested 6 years ago by Pieter Stokkink: “We play an infinite game”. The principle of playing an infinite game is rooted in the philosophical view that while our lives are finite, life itself is infinite. We are merely finite players in the infinite game of life. Applying this mindset changes how we wish to see things and how we behave. It defines who we are and how the business world should evolve in our eyes. Hence I think it’s worth sharing to a wider public. Thanks for reading!


Changing the Status Quo of Doing Business

Imagine you are on your deathbed, talking to your children about the value of life. And imagine your kid would ask you: “Dad, did you win life?” It is clear that this is an absurd question. How can you ‘win’ life? Who keeps the score? Who defines what winning means? What are the rules of the game? Everyone defines this for themselves, so it is impossible to say. What is regarded as winning for one person, is regarded as losing for another. You determine your own rules, and your own definitions of success. And looking over a full lifetime, so much has happened that it is impossible to do justice to your life by just giving it a score and a binary status of won or lost.


For a single game however it is very logical to look at it with a finite mindset. After the final whistle there is a score and everyone agrees, with few exceptions, who is the winner and who is the loser. But businesses are not about a single game. They operate over a long period of time, looking to achieve something bigger. Yet when I look at today’s competitive business landscape, many companies are driven by a finite mindset. Many are constantly striving to win market share, beat competitors, and achieve short-term goals. Some are so obsessed that competitors are seen as adversaries or enemies to beat. To me this feels very shortsighted. All of those definitions are close to worthless if you look at business from a long term perspective.  


At Solar Monkey we try to adopt a more infinite mindset, challenging the status quo. Instead we focus on purpose, long-term success, collaboration and adaptability. 


Our endeavours to embrace an infinite mindset

Embracing the infinite mindset has several implications for us:


  • Purpose comes first

In my previous job as a business consultant, I was advised to read the book ‘The Goal’ by Goldradtt. It’s a great book with very insightful learnings in removing bottlenecks and improving operational efficiency. But later I realised how crooked the general concept of this book was. The main character had an epiphany in the story that ‘the Goal’ of the business was to make money. Later I realised it’s not. At least it never should be. Money is only the fuel to drive a higher purpose. It is also needed to survive. But what value does a business have in surviving, if there is no value to add when it’s living?

The focus should always be on a higher purpose (Simon Sinek calls this a ‘just cause’), money is only the fuel to drive this purpose. At Solar Monkey our purpose is to accelerate the adoption of solar energy through software. It’s something we are very passionate about and know that it’s worth fighting for. We are still very commercially oriented, because we know that revenue will drive our mission. But if there ever is a tradeoff between the two, purpose is strongly prioritised above money. 

This principle is also important when looking at competition. Of course we don’t like ‘losing’ deals to the competition, because it hampers our own growth. But in driving our mission, it should not matter whether we or a competitor serve value to a client. It is quite liberating to look at competitors as other valuable players with a similar purpose. Players that we can learn from, keep us sharp, and help us improve. 


  • Focus on long term success

Following our infinite mindset, it is concluded simply to focus on long term success. This means we need to look beyond short-term metrics and financial gains. Simple, right?

It sounds easier than it actually is. We need to watch out for using the argument of playing the infinite game as an excuse to ignore short term goals. If you don’t progress in the short term you are unlikely to progress in the long term either. So by no means should it be a reason to slack! The key principle is that short term goals should be beneficial to long term success, and never stand in the way of it. 

The application of this principle can be seen in different areas in the business. Commercially, you won’t see us luring prospects into a contract they won’t be happy with, by promising things we cannot live up to. We’d rather let them go than have them pay for something that they don’t find valuable. Reputation (long term) is always more important than cash (short term).


  • Building trusting teams

Team is everything. And it’s not just about getting talented and skilful people on board. If the team dynamics are not right, performance will deteriorate. No matter how skilled the individuals are.

We believe teams should foster trust and collaboration, valuing cooperation over internal competition. I could write a whole book about our views on team dynamics, but a good starting point is the Lencioni pyramid. The fundament of the pyramid starts with trust. We need to be able to trust that our colleagues have our backs. That we can share problems and feedback openly without retaliation. Trust that it’s everyone’s honest intention to work for the same goal, and not just for our own career or salary.

How to drive trust? An important factor is getting to know each other better on a personal level. And honestly, that’s also tougher than it sounds. Because in a highly ambitious environment with high targets, we sometimes forget to reserve the time for that. And with many remote workers, social cohesion can be harder to achieve. That’s why we organise a 3-day company trip twice a year, in which building trust is a key part. One particular exercise I loved was to divide in pairs and blindfold one colleague using toilet paper, whilst the other person would guide her through the hotel. This starts slowly, but as trust builds up over time, the blindfolded person is able to move quicker and quicker. It’s magical to see how quickly trust and resulting movement speed increase!


This may sound soft. But it’s not for nothing that also the Navy Seals prioritise trust over performance.


  • Be flexible and respect worthy rivals

With an infinite mindset, we know it is inevitable that we have to change over time. The markets are changing rapidly and if we want to add value in the long term we need to change as well. Markets that may be prevalent in 10 years time might barely exist yet at this time. This means that looking at market share is a bit short-sighted. We look to change or create our own market rather than ‘conquer’ a part of what already exists. With Solar Monkey we have created a new product that did not exist before and we created a market for it.

This means that also as an organisation and as people we need to be open to change. The more flexible we are, the better we can spot new opportunities and benefit from them.


How the infinite game mindset helped us and where we went wrong

Since the foundation of Solar Monkey we have tried to apply the infinite mindset principles on everything we do. It resulted in many good relationships with clients, partners and colleagues. Negotiations were often easier, because a joined long term goal puts less pressure on a negotiation than a short term zero sum game in which you want to get the biggest share. 


A nice example is the transformation of prospects into satisfied customers over time. In the early days of Solar Monkey we still had a very basic product that many prospects did not find good enough yet. We did our best to manage expectations, gather feedback, and improve on the go. We built relationships with parties that rejected our proposition at first, to welcome them as clients years later. I like to believe that we have a strong reputation for dealing with our clients as partners, growing together.


Unfortunately the truth has to be told we didn’t always get it right. Occasionally we failed to adhere to the infinite mindset principles. Short-term focus and lack of wisdom have led to decisions that deviate from the intended values.  One example involves a time where our cash runway was short and we needed to cut costs. We had a decision to make on extending the contract of a colleague. What made it extra hard was that she was also suffering from a burnout. We allowed our long term vision to be hijacked by short term challenges. We could have gotten the whole team involved to find a solution for our financial difficulties, but instead we took the decision as management in isolation to end her contract. In hindsight, this was a short sighted way of thinking that I feel sorry about. It bit us in the arse as team morale plummeted, they were rightfully disappointed in us as management. 


So it almost feels hypocritical writing this. Nevertheless keeping a strong compass with such a cultural value helps us to evaluate and learn. We will get pulled off track sometimes, but we’ll do our best to learn and get back on track. 


Continuing our infinite game

We are continuing our journey with an infinite mindset. Surely we’ll take a wrong turn every now and then, but we’ll keep using this as our compass. 


Thanks for your interest and making it all the way to the end of this article 🙂 I am curious to hear your thoughts on the topic! What do you think about this mindset? How else can we improve our mindsets and following behaviours? Let me know in the comments below!