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Jonathan Dean

This is really wonderful. Thank you so much for continuing to draw attention to these areas (personally very timely). Jonathan.


Thanks for a great summary of the ideas of the book, and the recommendation. It is now sitting on my to-read stack, hoping to get to it within a week or so.

I've been reading up on SOPA and the broader Copyright Wars, and can't help thinking that the MPAA (and the rest) are playing a finite game, while the rest of us are enjoying (or trying to enjoy) an infinite game.

Joe McCarthy

I have also periodically re-read Carse's book over the past 25 years, and find new insights revealed each time, reflecting changes in my self and in my interpretation of the so-called external world.

During my latest revisitation, I was struck by the correlation between finite games and fundamentalism and totalitarianism, perhaps influenced by my having re-read Orwell's 1984 immediately prior to Carse's book. Carse's observations about the nature of evil are particularly relevant:

Evil does exist: it is when an infinite game is absorbed utterly in a finite game. All evil is an attempt to eliminate evil.

This leads me to reflect further on one of the extensions you propose here:

By building parallel institutions and practices that pull others into their game, infinite game players can attract enough critical mass so that they can pursue their quests with lower risk of intervention from the finite game players who view such actions as deeply subversive.

On the one hand, this represents the opposite of Carse's definition of evil. Rather than finite games absorbing or capturing players of infinite games, the infinite players may succeed in releasing those currently captivated by well defined rules, tools and schools.

On the other hand, I am reminded of Tim O'Reilly's insightful observation while debating whether "The Web is Dead?" with John Batelle and Chris Anderson:

Open and closed are in a great dance, always have been. Openness is where innovation happens; closedness is where value is captured. And then it all begins over again. The open PC hardware architecture gave us closed software; open source software and the open protocols of the internet gave us Google, and Amazon, and Facebook. So the question is where the next wave of openness and innovation comes from, and how we can encourage it to come more quickly.

Integrating these insights, it strikes me that finite and infinite games are likewise in a great dance, and that while some innovative institutions and practices playing infinite games may succeed in attracting some players of finite games (i.e., those engaged in more rigid institutions and practices), as they do achieve critical mass, I suspect they will find themselves exhibiting and practicing more finite game mechanics ... thereby setting the stage for the next cycle.

Ria Baeck

Thanks for reminding me of this great, little book. Time to buy it again, as it was somewhere lost...

Laurent Marbacher

Thank you for these great insights ! I read them right before an important meeting and it really shifts the way I'll listen and talk.
These distinctions remind me Robert Fritz's distinction between the "world of problem solving" vs. the world of creation (The Path of Least Resistance). Also about institutions, I love this book : Orbiting the Giant Hairball. It tells a similar story about how to create parallel spaces instead of confronting the Finite Game players.

Cassandra Rose

Applause ! Happy 2012 !
Liked your reference to silicon valley ! Things need to be shaken up from bottom > up emergence rather then making the same mistake that has come before in other industries of the top< down engineered sameness.

Glad You and JSB are spending time on this as it is VIP to save the mother ship since the finite world has eaten itself up ! Cat catching it's tail is reaching a crescendo going no where fast ~

For me not having the bio hearing sense all my life the finite world was off limits as it is too deterministic and judgmental for those of us who live via all the wonderful deeper senses we human possess but do not use as the superficial manipulative verbal world of sound has taken over everything via media etc.

No way to keep up with the world of " sound", I entered the world of infinity and exploration as infant 60 yrs ago and a wonderful world it is of possibilities as you say ~ Everyday is a stimulating day of fun adventure! I never had any idea why people persisted with the linear robotic world of finite limiting their amazing deeper sensory abilities as a Human they born with .

Being a big fan of your work is why I visit you ~ Nice omen for 2012 that you are going to break the bottle neck in world of commerce etc with teaching people this perceptual shift of expansion of spirals in the infinite space over the redundant deading locked down contained linear boxes.
Thank you !

Delia Lake

Adding my thanks here too. I also read Carse's Finite and Infinite Games more than 25 years ago when my daughter was in his class at NYU. Finite and Infinite Games is one of my all-time favorite books, a real gem.


"A mythical bird that never dies, the Phoenix flies far ahead to the front, always scanning the landscape and distant space. It represents our capacity for vision, for collecting sensory information about our environment and the events unfolding within it. The phoenix, with its great beauty, creates intense excitement and deathless inspiration." - Lam Kam Chuen

monika hardy

ah. perfect John.
thank you.

Gideon Rosenblatt

That book is my all-time favorite. My copy is worn thin. Thanks for making these great connections to Carse's writings, John.


Hi John!

I always love reading your blog, especially today. Great post, these words really caught my attention because I'm in the process of doing this.

"By drawing attention to horizons that have not yet been explored and demonstrating the ability to make progress in drawing out more potential and possibility, infinite game players have a greater chance of shifting the game and attracting other players"

I have no doubt which game I'm playing in 2012 but reading your commentary reinforced my resolve and gave me further validation that I'm on the right course.

Thank you so much.

Jan Gordon


Another way to distinguish these two types is that finite play is competitive and uses "power over" others, while infinite play is collaborative and uses "power with" others.

And at least with humans, they are motivated to play infinite games when they have all their basic needs for healthy growth consistently provided for by the rest of the game players, so that they feel like it's safe to think out of the box and to collaborate with others.

So perhaps the way to encourage others to play the infinite game is to specifically ensure that they have the high quality basic needs that they require to move past Maslow's deficiency needs, and into the transcendent levels of motivation. Most humans these days are seriously deficient, and many don't even know it. For starters most people have exceedingly low quality "food" that is really more addictive and toxic than anything. And most people don't have a home where they unconditionally belong (usually someone else owns the home, either a landlord, parents, or a bank, and even when they do own the home they are under constant threat of having the government take it away if they don't pay taxes). And without proper nutrition and the right to comfortable shelter, no one can function well! Yet we continue to irrationally expect that people be their best, when they clearly can't. Give them what they need to be their best, and they will...

Anna Hill

I'll play for the infinite !

Gigi Schilling

Thank you for this amazing article John and here is my favorite part:

The explorer is passionately committed to making an increasing difference in a selected domain but has no destination in mind and certainly has no pre-determined pathway. The explorer is focused on drawing out potential and possibility and thus naturally drawn to viewing life as an infinite game. An infinite game nurtures both the questing and connecting dispositions that are the defining elements of the passion of the explorer.


Aad Boot

John, thank you for this great post! I read Carse's book and like you describe it made a big impact on me. I enjoyed reading your post and the way you link Carse’s thoughts and questions to today’s reality. Take care, Aad

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