Playing the Infinite Game

Two weeks ago, I sat and listened as author Simon Sinek described two types of business leaders: one type was playing business as a game with a definitive end, with limited resources, and the objective to win the game as quickly as possible. The other type was playing business as a game with no end, unlimited resources, and the objective to keep the game going as long as possible.

Sinek’s point was that business leaders who play finite games – ones with limits and only one winner – were more likely to treat their employees as assets to be used and discarded. They were more likely to employ hurtful strategies that sacrifice potential long-term gains for short-term “victories”. In short, business leaders who “play to win” have the wrong perspective of what game they are actually in.

That’s because business isn’t a sprint. It’s a long-term endeavor. Effective business leaders understand you can’t “win” at everything – there are sacrifices you make in the moment to set up something greater in the future. In Sinek’s language, the business leaders who treat their employees as partners and take a larger view of the world are the most successful.

Because those leaders are playing the infinite game.

(Now, I know diddly-squat about game theory. I tried educating myself by reading this and this and this, but I got lost along the way. Long story short, I think Sinek’s simplified example fits well within the established theory and it’s a whole lot easier to explain.)

I bring this up because this finite/infinite game concept explains a lot about how I feel regarding the current election. I posted yesterday about my weariness of the entire shebang, but I didn’t quite explain why – mostly because I didn’t fully understand it myself. But the more I thought about it last night and into this morning, the more I realized the finite/infinite game example was the perfect explanation.

The Finite Game

A lot of people view this election as a finite game. There are very real stakes, very real limitations, and a very real victorious outcome. Depending upon which side of the political spectrum you find yourself, the definitions of those terms vary, but the overall philosophical ideal remains.

People are up in arms to “win” this election. They want to “win” the right to name Supreme Court justices who will help their side “win” future court cases. They want to “win” the office of the President so they can “win” the future of economic, military, and cultural politics. They want to “win” the election overall as a way of justifying their worldview, of declaring themselves the “winner” because they rightly see the world.

And because so much is at stake, the weapons and tactics chosen to win this war are brutal and effective. Shame. Fear-mongering. Name-calling. False stories. Character assassination. Media manipulation. And my personal favorite, questioning the sincerity of another person’s faith and/or civic responsibility simply because they don’t align with the chosen narrative.

In short, this election has become win at all costs for some and they are willing to cost themselves everything in pursuit of a win.

And all because they see this as a finite game.

The Infinite Game

But the truth is this election won’t make or break our nation, because our nation isn’t about any one election. It’s always about keeping the game going as long as possible.

Or, that’s how it used to be. And it could – and should – be that way again.

Elections should be about coming together for the greater good of our nation. They shouldn’t be about cramming our political philosophy down anyone’s throat. They shouldn’t be about dancing over the metaphorical corpse of our opponents. The whole purpose of elections is for our nation to come together and choose the best way forward for our collective good.

We should reject the people who want to turn an infinite game into something cheap. It’s like when I played HALO with some former students of mine – there was always that one kid who wanted to snipe everybody before the game got going. Because that one kid turned the game into his own personal “god” session, the rest of us ended up either quitting or kicking him out.

This election, there are a lot of people wanting to play in “god” mode. They’re using the internet to snipe people to keep the game from being played as it should. They’re trying to weary us in order to keep us from affecting the outcome.

I am weary. But I am convicted this morning that I shouldn’t grow weary while doing good; instead, I should keep in mind that there is a greater infinite game afoot that transcends even America’s national interests. I am reminded that I live and die by the rules of that game, and they are frequently not in alignment with the political game we play.

I will play the infinite game. My question is, will you?

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