2 min read

I got a lot of great feedback on yesterday’s piece related to relationships and finite/infinite games. A little bit of inside baseball, I realized the terms “finite” and “infinite” games may be new to some folks.

I borrowed the phrase from a book by James Carse called, Finite and Infinite Games.

The phrases are defined on the cover of the book itself:

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 to play.

If a finite game is to be won by someone, it must come to a definite end. It will come to an end when someone has won…[and someone else has lost]

My buddy Zach, a frequent character in these emails, wrote a response I wanted to share in full with his permission.

If you think about it, if you approach relationships in a finite way, you are actually saying that the purpose of the relationship is to end the relationship. It is to close and “win the transaction” which is to say, end it.

An infinite relationship is a relationship that is intended to evolve over the course of play. The rules and social contract change. They evolve to keep the relationship going, for the only reason it exists is to keep it alive. Its the continuation of play, not the pursuit of power.

So, you influence people only when you have an infinite relationship that evolves. You may gain authority over people through a finite relationship, but authority is fleeting, especially in a rapidly changing world.

Authority is consistent disrupted. Influence consistently disrupts itself, to propagate its existence.

With authority, you wear a mask. A veil. You show up as “boss” “congressman” or “investor”– and abstraction of who you are, anchored only to each other through the rules that govern the game in which your masks are worn.

With influence and infinity, you show up as you. You show up as Steve. Or Sarah. As someone with potential to play–not power based on what you’ve won.

Good relationships aren’t about winning. They are about playing.

Great quote from Carse’s book on this idea when applied to the rules of grammar vs. debate.