Winning

It doesn’t make sense to say that you’re going to “win” at education. Nor does it make sense to say you’re going to win at love, wealth, wisdom, friendship, beauty, or excellence. It doesn’t make sense because these are infinite games, games that have no end, games that are played for the enjoyment of playing.

Infinite games are positive-sum, meaning that my gain doesn’t imply your loss. If I gain a friend you’re more likely to gain a friend; if I become educated you’re more likely to become educated.

John Wooden was a basketball coach with an infinite mindset. His most famous quote: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

On the other hand, it makes sense to say you’re going to win the Stanley Cup. It makes sense to say you’re going to hit your quarterly numbers, that you’re going to win the heart of the prettiest girl, or that you’re going to get into an Ivy League school. These are finite games, meaning they have a definite end.

Finite games are zero-sum: My gain implies your loss. If I get into an Ivy League school it makes it less likely you’re going to get in, and obviously there can only be one winner of a championship game.

Bobby Knight was a basketball coach with a finite mindset. His most famous quote: “The key is not the ‘will to win’. . . everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.”

Finite games are fun to win, but it’s the infinite games that make life worth living.

[See James Carse’s classic, Finite and Infinite Games.

Here’s a podcast that explains it further: “Game Theory and the Infinite Game“.]