Joseph Kim is a Master Trainer at The Optimism Company founded by Simon Sinek. Joe’s mission is to guide the mindset of people towards becoming infinite minded rather than just playing to win. The concept of it lies in the Infinite Game approach. More about it below.
Joseph Kim was a professor in Japan when he first heard one of Simon Sinek‘s “why” talks. “It was about 8-9 years ago. I thought it was so good so I started to watch more of his videos and talking about it, but then I kind of forgot the whole idea. And, later on, when I was a professor in South Korea, I chanced upon someone else talking about Simon’s stuff and I discovered he has a company that I didn’t even know about. I enjoyed being a professor, but I wanted to increase my so called impact footprint and I wanted to do it by learning from him.
My background is in business, I am a business school professor. I like what Simon says that we are an organisation that focuses on humanity, on humans skills. There are technical skills, but we also need human skills. Not only in communication, but also in the area of purpose and meaning,” he explains.
What is the Infinite Game approach?
The infinite Game concept was first developed by a scholar of Theology and Religion in New York University, James P. Carse. He noticed that when we typically talk about a game we think about a winner and a loser. Like soccer, baseball, card games, even playing catch. Professor Carse noticed that there is another type of game that doesn’t have fixed rules, no winners or losers. These are games such as politics, religion, marriage, or friendship. The importance of an infinite game is not winning or losing but whether you have the will and resolve to keep going.
Simon Sinek, our founder took this idea and applied it to business. The idea is when we put strategies of finite games into something that is infinite then we end up in something called a quagmire where the strategy doesn’t work. The goal of becoming infinite minded is not about winning but rather continuing the game.
Where does this desire to win come from?
I think it’s just the way we are wired as species, we like to compare. A good example is marriage and parenting. Two families may have completely different ways of doing things and yet they are both really good parents. It’s not about comparison.
I have lived in three different countries and they are all very different in how they run their societies, etc. Is one more successful? No, they are just different. Often times, we humans feel better when we are compared with someone else. It can be useful but the problem is when we start applying these metrics, or something that is finite, to something that should be infinite, we get the categories mixed up and get confused and lost.
Where does your own optimism (and future-looking) gene stem from?
A lot of it is my upbringing. I’ve seen things get better. I hold on to this optimism that I can and will get better. It’s kind of wired onto the way I look at the world and why I joined The Optimism Company.
I am a child of immigrants. My parents immigrated to the USA in the 1970s. South Korea was a poor country back then and my parents wanted to provide a better life for his family. My father always valued education. He grew up in a poor farming town in South Korea, only a handful of his friends and family went to high school, but he even went to a small university there. He came as an international student and received his MBA in the USA. For him it was such a big accomplishment. He really thought that education would not only impact you but also the next generation. So, when my brother and I were born, he pushed that upon us. Today, my brother is an attorney and I am a professor.
Who did you aspire to become when you were a child?
My background was actually in music. I wanted to be a cellist and I was pretty serious about it, but I always had this self awareness that I was good at it but not great. I switched instruments and started to play electric guitar. I still do, I volunteer at my church and sometimes play for bands. It’s just a hobby now. This is a Paul Reed Smith (Joe shows his guitar that he keeps next to him at all times). But I wanted to leave a bigger impact and education seemed like a great way to go.
Will a changed (more optimistic) mindset of people save the planet?
In many places the measure of sustainability is mostly the carbon footprint, here in South Korea it’s the children. They don’t think primarily of the planet, they are focused on having more children. The birth rate has been under 1.0 for five years now (the replenishing rate is 2.1). People realise that it doesn’t matter if they put all their energy towards recycling and reducing their footprint. What is the point if there are not enough people? There are a lot of social pressures when a young couple gets married which is one of the reasons there is a lack of children.
I do think this whole idea of saving the planet is one way of looking at it. The other way is that we want to keep going and sustain life itself. Living irresponsibly, if we don’t take care of the environment around us, this means that the future generations are going to pay a major price. I have always seen sustainability that way. We can all have a grand old time, but what’s left? Elon Musk of Tesla wants us to go to Mars, maybe that is an option but who knows if that will happen. We want life on Earth to keep going. This is something that more developing nations struggle with. Because they are just struggling with basic needs being met. They are not thinking about their carbon footprint primarily, they want good jobs, healthy food, and good educational opportunities for their children.
Without conferences like Impact Day, without likeminded people to get together, the next generation needs to be taught that these things are important. I think that people at this conference get the idea of the infinite game. I think they know exactly what it means to play the infinite game. It is not a matter of winning or losing, it’s a matter of keeping on going. We want life to keep on going and that is how we make our impact on this planet.
Interviewer: Kerttu Kongas