There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.
Finite games require rules that remain constant. The game fails if the rules change during the game. Altering rules during play is unforgivable, the very definition of unfairness. Great effort, then, is taken in a finite game to spell out the rules beforehand and enforce them during the game. An infinite game, however, can keep going only by changing its rules. To maintain open-endedness, the game must play with its rules. A finite game such as baseball or chess or Super Mario must have boundaries — spatial, temporal, or behavioral. So big, this long, do or don't do that. An infinite game has no boundaries.
James Carse, the theorist and theologian who developed these ideas in his brilliant concept of Finite and Infinite Games, says, "Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries."
Life, market, mind, and the technium are infinite games. Their game is to keep the game going.
Markets are infinite, the boundaries keep on moving, however, most companies play the finite game, focused and obsessed with winning. Think taxi companies complaining the rules had changed when Uber entered their market or hotel chains claiming Airbnb destroyed their (intransparent) market. So, how do you win a game that never really ends? A few notes.
Businesses and organisations that play the finite game focus on shareholder value, winning a contract, beating the competitor, the what and how of their operations.
Organisations that play the infinite game focus on their members (not customers), relationships, circularity, getting bettr, the big why of their organisation (BHAG).
The infinite game
Successful companies start with the customer. They focus on the jobs to be done and make sure they get it done better, cheaper and faster. They talk to their customer and learn from them, the more information obtain the better they can tailor (innovation) their solution and the more valuable the relationship becomes. This is digital transformation: from linear transactional models to a circular relationship.
From a finite game where you win or lose a customer to an infinite game where companies evolve and grow with their customers.
The goal of the infinite game is to keep playing — to explore every way to play the game, to include all games, all possible players, to widen what is meant by playing, to spend all, to hoard nothing, to seed the universe with improbable plays, and if possible to surpass everything that has come before.
Happy holidays and let's keep the conversation going.