Finite and Infinite Games

This podcast episode from one of My ‘Virtual Brain Trust’, Seth Godin, has given me a framework to talk about how I’ve structured my life around longer term vision leading to the right short term actions.

Seth Godin’s Akimbo Podcast

Finite and Infinite Games

The idea is that there are finite games and infinite games.  Finite games is liken to short term thinking and infinite games are very long term vision.

Give it a listen:

  • You only need to listen to the 26 minute mark.

Show notes

Also related Simon Sinek: The Finite and Infinite Games of Leadership: tech talk at Google

The original book Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse

Tony’s Infinite Games

For example, some of my long term visions (Infinite Games) are

  • Playing badminton until I am 80 years old
  • Having a trusting, open, loving relationship with my daugther
  • Helping my daughter have meaningful work for the next 40 years of her life
  • Having zero regrets if I were to die in the next 2 hours

These long term visions drives me towards the right short term behaviors

  • I do not compete in a lot of badminton tournaments and I don’t train super hard to avoid injuries
  • I talk to my daughter about my own parenting choices, I model behaviors that I want her to do
  • I do not push her to top name colleges just because they are top ranked.  I do not push her to majors that is not right for her.  I recommend to her to not chase to enter an elite college just because it’s hard to get into.  She does not need to play the finite game of college admissions.
  • I imagine what I would regret on my death bed, or at my parent’s death bed.  If there is something I think I will regret not doing, I make myself do it asap.  I tell my family that at this very moment in time, I do not have any regrets if I die.  My wife tells me that she believes I have done everything I want to do.

My own interpretations

  • Finite games have definite beginning and end.  They usually have teammates and opponents.  There are rules that are known and some are unknown.  Most importantly there is a scarce resource that is coveted.  There usually are winners and by definition losers.   Some finite games are entrance to coveted colleges like Harvard, the Stanley Cup, getting the next promotion at work.
  • Infinite games are those where there are no rules.  Players who play at infinite games are playing for the long game.  They don’t focus on opponents because they themselves are their opponents.  They choose not to play the short game or finite games.  They create a category.  For example, instead of playing the game of the $10,000 computer, IBM made the $1,000 PC for every home.  Apple put a supercomputer in the pocket of everyone that knows your location and is always connected.  Podcast creator for Overcast put out the app for free to create a bigger pie in the Podcast marketplace.
  • For young people: When we focus on the infinite game, we plan 30 years ahead.  If we put our horizon 30 years, is the entrance to Harvard that important?  Should we instead find the college that best suit what we want to be doing for work for 30 years?    Is making a lot of money really what we want to be our vision for our life for 30 years?
  • For parents: If we extend our horizon out 30 years for our children. In our daily interaction, what is really important?  Is putting away dishes 100% of the time really important?  Or is giving her a hug every single day and telling her you think her art is really good and she should continue? For the long term, is it better for her to get perfect homework and grades or for her for fail a few times and for her to seek out help from friends and teachers so that she learns how to recover from failure?
  • For yourself: At work, if you extend out 30 years.  In your current job, is it better for get the next promotion by stepping over your co-workers.  Is it better to be focusing inwards on the next reward or making all your teammates better? Is it better for be known for someone who people love to work with again in the future.  So that in 15 years, when you reach out to your network, people will be your promoter behind your back.  And they gladly accept any request for help from you?

From Simon Sinek:

  • Infinite game players focus on vision, something that is always going to be out of reach.
  • Finite game players work at the tactical level