Are you playing a finite or infinite game?


Competition is everywhere: for sports championships and awards in the arts and sciences; for customers, promotions, and stock prices; for the \”correct\” political ideology and victory in war. In each of these cases and more, there is a definite end of competition, at which point a winner and loser are decided. The point of the player is to win. The point of the competition is to end.This is James P. Carse\’s formulation of a \”finite game\” in his short work, Finite and Infinite Games. We have constructed an ecosystem of exclusive, finite games, and this negatively shapes the choices and quality of our lives. At the individual level, we defer self-expression and happiness to a \”happily ever after\” mirage. Once I retire… once I get married… once I make a million dollars… In the mean time, we take ourselves seriously, judge ourselves and others, and make life miserable. At the societal level, we believe that we are progressing towards a utopia or \”end of history\”, and that compels us to destroy everyone that doesn\’t fit in with our picture of a perfect world.Carse juxtaposes finite games with their life-affirming, universal twin: infinite games. With no fixed endpoint or rules of play, the purpose of infinite games is to keep playing. This requires players to embrace change and surprise, learn along the way, and express themselves. Simon Sinek has recently published The Infinite Game, which explores what it means to be an infinite game player in business and life.Carse\’s model blew my mind. Once you recognize the never-ending process of change that drives the universe and our existence, there\’s no going back. Carse shows us that this reality is not something to ignore and deny, but celebrate and contribute to.Applying the model is more important than reading the book. It took me a while to finish because I frequently put it down whenever Carse got wordy and repetitive. There\’s more than enough in this book to get you thinking forever, and here are some of my quotes and notes from the book to start you off:

Power is given from others, strength is developed from within. Therefore, not everyone can be powerful, but everyone can be strong.\”Only that which can change can continue\”\”To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated…Education leads toward a continuing self-discovery; training leads toward a final self-definition\”\”There is a humiliating memory at the bottom of all serious conflicts\”\”[Infinite players] recognize in themselves the evil that takes the form of attempting to eliminate evil elsewhere\”\”Evil arises in the honored belief that history can be tidied up, brought to a sensible conclusion\”

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