Finite and Infinite Games…

Mitch Schneider
November 12, 2019

A long time ago, an early mentor and close friend declared that he had no competition. It was a shocking statement that left me feeling bewildered and confused.

I knew what his company did and just how competitive his market was. Stating that he had no competition was absurd. He went on to explain that he was the competition! He was the innovator: the visionary, and that everyone else was chasing him.

I didn’t have the knowledge or experience to understand that what he was really saying was that he was a leader in an infinite game while those who sought to compete with him were fully engaged in a battle to win a finite game. A game that he was unwilling to play.

Finite Games

Finite games are easy to recognize. They have known players. They have accepted fixed rules and pursue mutually agreed-upon objectives. Winning is the goal and what it means to win is understood by everyone playing.

Infinite Games

Infinite games are very different. The goal is not ‘winning.’ The goal is to continue the game: to continue playing. Players are both known and unknown. The rules are fluid and can be changed and changed often.

Finite players are comfortable playing finite games. Just as infinite players are comfortable playing infinite games. However, that’s where it ends!

Introducing a finite player into an infinite game can be frustrating, dangerous and destructive. It will destroy trust, eliminate cooperation and all but abolish invention and innovation. Infinite games thrive when vision for the future is so compelling individuals are willing to sacrifice their own interests and agenda so the game will continue.

Infinite games are identified by worthy rivals and courageous leadership.

To achieve success in life — or, in business — it’s important to know the game you’re playing as much as it is to know who else is in the game.

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