Finite & Infinite Games

The Idea

Contributed by @philhagspiel |  Edited and curated by @philhagspiel

Not all games in life are played to win. Some are played to just keep the game going.

World View
Mental Models

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

Go Deep

Go Beyond

A few further resources you might like if you find above idea interesting: