Finite & Infinite Games
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Not all games in life are played to win.
Some are played to just keep the game going.
[The main concepts of this idea are taken from James P. Carse's book Finite & Infinite Games.]
While Finite Games are played to win, Infinite Games are played to continue the game of playing. Existence itself, on the highest level, is the ultimate Infinite Game: a perpetual attempt to continue the game of existence.
Within it, there are pockets of finite games everyone plays at some point. However, as a society, we are conditioned to view everything as a Finite Game with losers and winners by default.
We believe in the necessity of a final state we need to reach as individuals or collectives (nations, organizations, groups, families, ...) within given boundaries. However, in most cases, our domains of action can be reframed into Infinite Games that don't play within boundaries, but with them — creating continuous adaptations and change to maintain the ability to play in an open world.
For example, in society, the Finite Game is played by trying to increase individual status and wealth and by focusing on past achievements as signifiers of power.
The Infinite Game is played by continuous self-discovery, improving communities and a focus on future cultural change.
Similarly, in business, the Finite Game manifests in races to IPOs, competition with others and a focus on trying to stay within limitation-based boundaries.
The Infinite Game centers around creating legacy that survives its current leaders and a focus on trying to expand a vision-based horizon.
“There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.“
— James P. Carse
“To be prepared against surprise is to be trained. To be prepared for surprise is to be educated.“
— James P. Carse
For the ultimate primer on Finite & Infinite Games, read James P. Carse's book Finite & Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility.
If you want to understand a bit before you jump into the book, check out this Wikipedia article.
A great article about how the Infinite Game of Culture influences everything in our world and lives can be found here: Cultural Architecture: Infinite Games, Ontological Design, & Sacred Duty.
Another interesting article looking at the implications of Infinite Games on business strategy and decision making to be found here: Playing The Infinite Game.
Futuris Kevin Kelly explores the relationship between tech and society and the idea of Infinite Games in this Youtube video (14 min.).
Simon Sinek recently expanded upon Carse's ideas with a particular focus on businesses and organizations in his book The Infinite Game.
A few further resources you might like if you find above idea interesting:
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