The Infinite Game - Read by the author. Unabridged
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How do we win a game that has no end? Finite games, like football or chess, have known players, fixed rules and a clear endpoint. The winners and losers are easily identified. Infinite games, games with no finish line, like business or politics, or life itself, have players who come and go. The rules of an infinite game are changeable while infinite games have no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers only ahead and behind.
The question is, how do we play to succeed in the game we re in?
In this revelatory new book, Simon Sinek offers a framework for leading with an infinite mindset. On one hand, none of us can resist the fleeting thrills of a promotion earned or a tournament won, yet these rewards fade quickly. In pursuit of a Just Cause, we will commit to a vision of a future world so appealing that we will build it week after week, month after month, year after year. Although we do not know the exact form this world will take, working toward it gives our work and our life meaning.
Leaders who embrace an infinite mindset build stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organizations. Ultimately, they are the ones who lead us into the future.
Finite and Infinite Games
If there are at least two players, a game exists. And there are two kinds of games: finite games and infinite games.
Finite games are played by known players. They have fixed rules. And there is an agreed-upon objective that, when reached, ends the game. Football, for example, is a finite game. The players all wear uniforms and are easily identifiable. There is a set of rules, and referees are there to enforce those rules. All the players have agreed to play by those rules and they accept penalties when they break the rules. Everyone agrees that whichever team has scored more points by the end of the set time period will be declared the winner, the game will end and everyone will go home. In finite games, there is always a beginning, a middle and an end.
Infinite games, in contrast, are played by known and unknown players. There are no exact or agreed-upon rules. Though there may be conventions or laws that govern how the players conduct themselves, within those broad boundaries, the players can operate however they want. And if they choose to break with convention, they can. The manner in which each player chooses to play is entirely up to them. And they can change how they play the game at any time, for any reason.
Infinite games have infinite time horizons. And because there is no finish line, no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as "winning" an infinite game. In an infinite game, the primary objective is to keep playing, to perpetuate the game.
My understanding of these two types of games comes from the master himself, Professor James P. Carse, who penned a little treatise called Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility in 1986. It was Carse's book that first got me thinking beyond winning and losing, beyond ties and stalemates. The more I looked at our world through Carse's lens of finite and infinite games, the more I started to see infinite games all around us, games with no finish lines and no winners. There is no such thing as coming in first in marriage or friendship, for example. Though school may be finite, there is no such thing as winning education. We can beat out other candidates for a job or promotion, but no one is ever crowned the winner of careers. Though nations may compete on a global scale with other nations for land, influence or economic advantage, there is no such thing as winning global politics. No matter how successful we are in life, when we die, none of us will be declared the winner of life. And there is certainly no such thing as winning business. All these things are journeys, not events.
However, if we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, it's as if they don't know the game in which they are playing. They talk constantly about "winning." They obsess about "beating their competition." They announce to the world that they are "the best." They state that their vision is to "be number one." Except that in games without finish lines, all of these things are impossible.
When we lead with a finite mindset in an infinite game, it leads to all kinds of problems, the most common of which include the decline of trust, cooperation and innovation. Leading with an infinite mindset in an infinite game, in contrast, really does move us in a better direction. Groups that adopt an infinite mindset enjoy vastly higher levels of trust, cooperation and innovation and all the subsequent benefits. If we are all, at various times, players in infinite games, then it is in our interest to learn how to recognize the game we are in and what it takes to lead with an infinite mindset. It is equally important for us to learn to recognize the clues when finite thinking exists so that we can make adjustments before real damage is done.
The Infinite Gam