3 min read

Let The Games Begin

Dec 4, 2020 10:23:30 AM

Did you claim victory over 2020, or did it get you?

How you answer that question has much to do with the kind of game you’re choosing to play: finite or infinite.

Let The Games Begin - Full

In 1986, the Director of Religious Studies at NYU, James Carse, wrote a book called Finite and Infinite Games. Finite games require an opponent. The rules are fixed. There is an end.

Finite players tend to stay rooted in the past because that’s where the winning came from. It created their title and perceived power. It drives bigger displays of ego “so that other players fully understand who they’re dealing with.”[1]

In finite games, players avoid surprises and try to plan around them. This requires training.

Infinite players choose education over training. Because infinite players are in one long-never-exactly-repeated game, training for the past doesn’t help as much as learning to be adaptable to the future. Infinite players expect surprise and continue their play through it.

“Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.” [2]

Infinite players care less about what happened and spend more of their time figuring out what’s possible.

As Carse makes clear, infinite games go on forever. Infinite players look to the future because the goal is to keep the game going. Where finite players need power. Infinite players need endurance.

And all of this is a choice, a mindset. For finite thinkers, there will be very little that goes consistently according to plan. And in that sense, they’ll deal with many defeats. Ultimately, finite players will run out of the will or resources to stay in the game.[3]

Simon Sinek references the Vietnam War to make this point in his book The Infinite Game. The US didn’t lose the war outright in as much as the cost of continuing on in the pursuit of victory became too much. The US was playing to win a finite contest. The Vietnamese people were fighting for their lives, a never-ending pursuit.

So how did you answer my initial question? Whether you think you won or lost, it was likely in the context of a finite game. Imagine changing your mindset to that of an infinite player. How would that change your answer?

For me, my finite answer was 2020 seemed to get the better of me from time-to-time. I didn’t win all the finite games I had hoped or planned to.

From an infinite standpoint, channeling Simon Sinek, I know that we’re pursuing a just cause with trusted teammates. The pandemic has allowed for closer study of worthy rivals and brought all kinds of opportunity for existential flexibility as we pursue that cause. And we’ve made tough decisions we know are the right thing for infinite play, even if they might appear naïve in a finite game.

So how did 2020 go? We’re still in the game, still playing, still pursuing something much, much bigger than a single year!


[1] https://fs.blog/2020/02/finite-and-infinite-games/

[2] https://www.nateliason.com/notes/finite-infinite-games-james-carse

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/workday/2019/04/30/simon-sinek-applying-the-infinite-game-mindset-to-business/?sh=7d4ee0b633dd

Topics: Executive
Tim Leman

Written by Tim Leman

Tim is Chairman and CEO at Gibson. He joined Gibson in 2005 as the Director of the Employee Benefits Practice and became a principal in 2007. He was named President in 2009, CEO in 2011, and elected Chairman of the Board in 2014.

With Tim’s leadership, Gibson has been selected as a Best Places to Work in Indiana, named to Principal’s 10 Best list for employee financial security, maintained its status as a Reagan & Associates Best Practices Agency, recognized as one of 20 Indiana Companies To Watch, and named to the Inc. 5000 list. Read Tim's Full Bio