Play the infinite game.

This is a post from the Amateur Hour series my friend Corinne and I created last year. You can find all 12 weeks of writing at http://www.AmateurHourBlog.com or download the entire project as a PDF here.

A couple months ago Game Theory wrecked my perspective on Comparison.

From the back row of a leadership conference, I scribbled notes down as Simon Sinek delivered a strikingly honest and practical talk about millennials, the workplace and Game Theory to a crowd of middle-aged businessfolks. 

Now I’m not nearly smart enough to understand—much less explain—Game Theory to you, but the simplified concept is super practical for us both. So I’ll do my best. 

(I recommend you watch the whole talk here. This is 30 minutes of GOLD for any twenty-something. The last 10 minutes he discusses the concept below.)

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Your life is a Game.

And in Game Theory there are two types of games.

Finite games have known players, fixed rules, and an agreed upon objective.

Sinek uses baseball as an example.

There are winners and losers and at the end of nine innings, the game is over. It’s all about beating the other guys. You study the competition, watch game film, and strategize your batting lineup to hopefully dominate the game.

Or if you’re the Cubs, you just get lucky once every 108 years. 

Infinite games, however, have known and unknown players with changeable rules. The only objective is to keep playing. There are no winners or losers. People only lose when they lose the will or resources to play longer.

Conflict, Sinek explains, arises when you pit an infinite player vs. a finite player. The Finite Player’s only desire is to win. The Infinite Player doesn’t care for rules, much less winning and losing.

Example: The United States in Vietnam. The US fought to win, the Vietnamese fought for their lives. There was no way to formally “win” the war because the adversaries were playing two completely different games.

James Carse, who wrote a book about the concept, explains that,

“Finite players play within boundaries;
infinite players play with boundaries.”

Life is an Infinite Game.

Yet we often pretend we’re playing in a giant competition instead.

The goal is to beat everyone else, right?

You need to be better, faster, more liked and more powerful than the next guy. At all costs, win and definitely don’t lose. The problem being, of course, there are no defined metrics to win by and you’ll ultimately finish dead last however you measure it.

Infinite Players play against themselves. They work relentlessly—no matter what everyone else is doing—every single day to be better than yesterday. To grow stronger, dream bigger, love better and do things that matter.

If we’re going to kill Comparison before it kills us, we have to trade the Finite for the Infinite.

Negative opinions of the crowd are rendered meaningless when you’re not actually playing against them. Sometimes you will be ahead and sometimes you will be behind compared to others, but it never matters.

All that matters is moving forward the best you know how.

“It’s not about outdoing anyone, it’s about outdoing yourself. You are the competition… Because the joy comes not from comparison, but from advancement.” —Simon Sinek

You can’t afford to play the Finite Comparison Game anymore.

Life is not a big competition.

Your success is not mutually exclusive with everyone else’s.

I’m not on Earth to beat you and you’re not on Earth to beat me. As much as I’ve treated it like the Hunger Games in the past (minus the brutal murder part), it’s not.

We’re each living with our own circumstances and boundaries and hardships.

And in this game, it doesn’t matter how you compare to others.

It matters that you grow better than you were yesterday.

That you confidently move forward. 

One rambling step at a time. 


Here’s the challenge I’m taking this week, I hope you’ll join me.

Yesterday I stole a baseball from my roommate’s car.

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Actual baseball stolen from roommate’s car.

And I’m going to carry it around with me over the next week or so as a reminder to play the Infinite Game. To quit keeping score and to live above comparison and competition.

We all need reminders to drop the rankings and live our own stories.

Maybe it’ll look weird when I walk into work with a baseball in hand tomorrow. But hey, comparison is an absurd thing. Let’s kill it with an absurd solution.

This will be my reminder.

What will be yours?

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