World without ends

This post was lost in the Crocapocalypse – I’m reposting it with its original date.

Yesterday I posted about beginning with the end in mind.

Today’s question is: what if we never get to the end?

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the game you’re playing, and how you choose to play it.

I’ve been re-reading parts of James Carse‘s Finite and Infinite Games – if you haven’t come across it, it’s fascinating, liberating and confusing by turns, and highly enjoyable.

Carse – I’ll call him James from now on to avoid sounding po-faced – distinguishes between ‘Finite games’,  which are played for the purpose of winning, and ‘infinite games’, which are played for the purpose of continuing the play.

So in a finite game like chess, the purpose of the game – the reason we play, or often play, is to win. We play the game to endthe game on our terms: ‘all finite play is play against itself’.

Losing when you win

Have you ever played a game to win – and won – and yet ended up feeling like everyone lost? You won but you felt mean (definition two, adjective, senses 1, 2 and 3). You pissed off your friends. You proved yourself as a winner and won the small game – great job – but lost at something bigger.

You won the finite game but played the infinite one – friendship, life – badly. 

James isn’t against finite games – I think his point is that we need to remember what they are. And his bigger point is that we can see most of the things we do as games we play, and we’re playing many of them wrong. Schooling. Business. Relationships. Career building. Even friendship. We so often play them to win, or to be ranked, and in doing so miss the larger game.

Our ends are often too small.

  • What if the real point of doing what you do is so that the game can continue?
  • Are you playing a game that is worth continuing?
  • How do your priorities change if instead of saying ‘I started at thistime, and I’ll win when I get here’, you view your project, organisation, business as being part of a game that started long before you appeared on the scene, and will continue long after you’re gone?
  • What does your work, your life bring to this bigger game?
  • Are you bringing more people into the play, or pushing them out?
  • Are you creating possibilities, or shutting them down?
  • What happens when you leave?

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