Business is an infinite game, per motivational speaker Simon Sinek. The players may change, but the game continues. Sinek, the golden boy of organizational consultancy, offers a slick, polished presentation as he shares the five characteristics of infinite-game leadership, but his analysis, though ripe with real-life examples, lacks any scientific backing or data. Nevertheless, Sinek’s passionate, expert-sounding delivery will maintain his status as an audience favorite.
The United States won almost every battle in the Vietnam War but was unable to claim ultimate victory. In his book Finite and Infinite Games, theologian James Carse describes two kinds of games. Finite games such as football have clear rules, boundaries, winners and losers. When the game is over, the players stop playing. Infinite games, on the other hand, have no winners; rather, when players can’t continue due to a lack of will or resources, they leave the game, which continues without them. The objective of infinite games such as the Cold War is merely to keep playing. When finite players play other finite players, or when infinite players face off against other infinite players, the game remains stable. However, when a finite player competes against an infinite player, problems arise because their objectives are quite different. Consider that America fought in the Vietnam War to win, but the North Vietnamese fought for survival.