In his 1986 book, “Finite and Infinite Games” James Carse speaks about the two kinds of games. At the simplest level, a finite game is played for the purpose of winning and an infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing the game.
So what does all that have to do with a thriving future?
Let’s look at it from the perspective of a corporation. An example of a finite game for a corporation is quarterly performance. Playing this finite game can foster behaviors like doing what’s good in the short term, with limited concern for long-term impacts on things like the broader economy and environment. Think of the subprime mortgage debacle in 2008.
If a corporation is playing an infinite game, one of being able to continue the game, there’s a different set of behaviors. The longevity of the conditions that allow you to play the game comes into focus. For example, you have to have customers, resources and an environment that are thriving in a way that allow you to continue playing the game.
Something to note is that inside of an infinite game there will likely be finite games, like quarterly performance. However, inside of the infinite game, the game of quarterly performance is played differently than when played on its own. To win the game of quarterly performance in this frame, all that is done to win the game must support being able to continue playing the infinite game.
So, it’s not that a finite game like quarterly performance is inherently bad or has negative impacts. The question is, what is the frame inside of which the game is played – the finite game itself, or inside an infinite game.
If we take any finite game we are playing and then consider, take on, an infinite game, how we go about playing the finite game alters. We consider the long-term ramifications, we play the finite game only in a way that enables us to continue to play the game in the long-term.
One way to generate a future for a thriving humanity is to take any finite game you are playing and put it in the frame of an infinite game that you will take on. This will take some new thinking and new action, and it will engage you in generating a thriving future in new ways.
To reach a true viable thriving future, we will have to engage in a new level of infinite gameplay looking for ways for us to tie our winning together, reflecting the interdependent nature of all life.