When we fail to achieve a result we often look at a few factors, lack of resources, time, knowledge, people, etc… the thing we often forget about is the game we are playing. I don’t think that it is because we don’t understand it, I think it is because we haven’t explored it. How finite and infinite games affect the mindset we have in business, sports, and life. Let’s talk.
Simon Sinek I believe is writing a book about this and had a brief ted talk on the subject of game theory. He proposes that there are two types of games, finite and infinite. The finite game is described as known players, fixed rules, and agreed upon objectives I.E. baseball. Both teams get 9 players, with 9 innings to attempt to score as many runs as possible; the winner is the one with the most runs after said 9 innings. Whereas the infinite game is known and unknown players, the rules change, and the objective is to perpetuate the game. His example is the cold war, where we were not looking to win the game it is to stay in the game and keep the game moving.
This system is stable when you pit an infinite player vs. an infinite player as well with finite players. The problems arise when you do the opposite. This is exemplified in business. Most large companies are always trying to “win”. They want to be #1 or try to “win” customers, clients, business, sales, etc… My question is, how do you win at business? When is the game over? It is not! Business owners and executives need to realize the game they are playing. It is not about winning. Business has been around long before we existed and will be here long after we die. Executive teams need to start focusing on competing with themselves and not with their competition. It is not about beating your competitors it is about beating yourself. I think this is also because our mindset not only has us focused the wrong game, but also the result. We are constantly chasing being #1 or having the most sales or whatever the flavor of the week is. We should be focused on getting better, every single day. Result vs. process. We also have to understand that new players are always entering the game. So the people we thought we were competing against may leave the game and those new players may put us out of business and that is why we can’t focus on them. We must focus on getting better by competing against ourselves.
So how do sports play in this field? They are defined as finite, we can win a game, a match, a round, but I want to talk about the people who do this repeatedly over long periods of time. How do they do it? I will focus on a wrestler, Kyle Snyder. He is the youngest world and Olympic champion in the sport. He also has won two NCAA titles for Ohio State. The difference between him and other people I believe is his mindset. Granted he has god given talent and a hard work ethic, but I also believe it is something else. his Mindset. He doesn’t focus on winning. He doesn’t talk about chasing titles and winning Olympic gold. He talks about training, and wrestling the best people in the world, he focuses on the process of getting better. He knows that he won’t win every match. He knows that he won’t always be #1, but that because he has the infinite mindset. He is competing against himself every day to get better. He knows results will come because finite results come out of infinite mindsets. He is not focused on the next medal, he is focused on being better every day.
Last topic is life. Our lives are not infinite, we have a definitive end, but the concept of living has been around before we were here and will go on longer than we will live. Living your life is something you can control. The amount of life you have is something you can’t. Ask yourself this, how do you win at life? The closest thing I can find in my definition is how you define success. I believe again as humans we chase results. We want the newest car, the biggest house, the highest paycheck, all because we believe that we will feel success or that is how we define it. When in reality we should be focusing on living our lives. So many times I see people sacrifice relationships, experiences, growth, for materialistic things, work, and the letters behind their name on a business card. It is not about achieving these things, because at the end of the day when you look back on your life are you going to wish you had worked more? Are you going to wish you had a bigger house? Or are you going to wish you had done the opposite?
Start by defining what a successful life means to you. Then focus on everyday getting better. You will know where the ship is headed because you have defined success and the path to that success is flexible. It is also based on getting better. No longer focus on making more money at work, no longer focus on the championship game, no longer look at being #1. Focus on getting better, every single day. Focus on the process and I promise you the results will come, you will achieve more than you ever dreamed of and learn more about yourself along the way. The process is the infinite game, it’s time to change the mindset and it starts…with you.