Finite and Infinite Games

Finite and Infinite Games

James P Carse

The last book that fundamentally affected my way of thinking was ‘Antifragile’. It altered my perspective on ownership, planning, and in general, the approach to various events and things. It remains a favourite. But this book took my thinking to a different plane altogether, and has probably altered it irrevocably. Credit goes to James P Carse for at least two things – one for the thinking that clarified everything around us to this level of ‘simplicity’, and two, for explaining it in a manner that makes it easy to absorb.

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite.” From politics and wars to sports and business, finite games are all around us. They are played to be won, and are over when there is a victor. There is only one infinite game and its only purpose is continuing the play. In both, “whoever plays, plays freely.” More

Growth, Prosperity & Infinite Games

One of the things that struck me in Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” was how much the line of thought on growth resembled the “infinite game” philosophy of James P Carse. In the former, the author explains how, as money becomes an end to itself as opposed to a means, a system built on a central currency gets into a growth trap. i.e. growth for the sake of growth. To frame it in the second book’s context, this tends to be a zero-sum game for all involved. There is a clear winner, and that winner takes all. i.e. a finite game.

Rushkoff explains how at this point in time, platform monopolies, (e.g. Amazon, Uber, AirBnB) and businesses in general, are playing finite games. And that is how growth has become the enemy of prosperity. In the second half of the book, he calls for more sustainable (and inclusive) ways of growth. This has much in common with Carse’ definition of an Infinite game, whose only purpose is the continuation of play, and sometimes, bringing more players into the game.  More

Atrophy, or not.

An excellent coincidence that I finished reading James P Carse’ “Finite and Infinite Games” the same day I wrote this post. The book helped me frame thoughts to my satisfaction. 

There was an age when accumulating possessions – from apparel brands to places visited to career designations to property ownership and anything that signals prosperity – was the game I played. Or games, because a milestone was a victory in that finite game, and I quickly moved on to another. Trophies that the world dictatedMore