On one of my many, long car journeys recently, I happened to come across a short programme on Radio 4 called ‘Pop-Up Economics
Normally, I would reach for the dial and find music, preferring the background melodies to keep me company rather than a talk programme demanding that I listen!
But there was something engaging in this fifteen minute short about economics and game theory. The programme ended with this thought provoking statement:
“You can solve game theory, but in the complexity of life
there is always a bigger game“
It reminded me of an excellent book that I came across a few years ago, that shifted my approach to competition.
Called Finite and Infinite Games
by James P. Carse, the author suggests that there are two types of games we play – those we play to win and those we play to help the game continue on past our involvement. The book goes on to explore what these two types of games mean in all walks of life, not just in business.
But it was particularly in the context of business that it came into my mind as the Pop-Up Economics programme came to an end.
As finite games are everywhere in business. In the boardroom, during meetings, with our colleagues and our teams. They are characterised by winners and losers, a beginning and an end. Indeed, you could say that all businesses work in this short term way, driving for year on year profit gains without too much thought on the long term effect on the organisation or the community in which it resides. You have only got to consider what has happened in the past five or six years to recognise these games!
On the other hand, infinite games are unpredictable and give us a real sense of freedom. These games come from an intent to consider the legacy of our involvement, with no thought of winning (or losing), as these games are ultimately more rewarding. In playing infinite games, we recognise that we are part of something much bigger, more complex.
Which games do you play? Do you need to win or to be right? Or do you have your eye on something else, a bigger prize to play for?
In short, even if you win the games that you play, in this complex world there is always a bigger, and infinite game.