The infinite game is the ultimate game for longevity.
It focuses on long-term improvement for yourself, while the finite game focuses on immediate improvement against others. I recently came to terms that playing the infinite game is the key to a healthier and happier creative career.
A few months ago I found myself caught in the middle a comparison trap with my peers. I posted a lettering piece on Instagram earlier that day (something I had put in at least 8 hours to perfect) and was hoping to get a good amount of likes. But as I kept refreshing my feed I became more and more disappointed that I wasn’t getting the expected response.
On the other hand, some of my artist friends were getting hundreds of likes within minutes of posting. …wut.
These traps creep up on me often. Mainly due to the engagement metrics that constantly remind me of my status and where I stand compared to others. But also from the arbitrary ‘likes’ scorecard that gets applied to every artwork I post.
But that day felt different. Instead of crawling back to bed feeling like a failure, I took a step back to figure out how to protect myself rom falling into the trap again.
I was determined to pursue a healthier relationship with my creative passions. That’s when I stumbled upon the concept of the infinite game and something in my brain finally clicked.
The infinite game is a clever idea I learned from author Simon Sinek in his book The Infinite Game. He explains that having a finite mindset is useful when playing a game with an end state, like basketball. This means all players of the game understand that there’s a set of rules, a time limit, and a winner when the game is over.
On the other hand, having an infinite mindset is best if you’re playing a game with no end state. Careers, businesses, happiness, are all ambiguous things that rarely have an end state. In these spaces, you seek a greater purpose other than just “winning”.
Because the goal is not to win. The goal is to last the longest.
Apple is mentioned in the book as a leader in this mindset and it’s fascinating to see how they’ve been consistent with their approach over the decades. Back in the 80’s Apple’s mission was, “to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind”. Almost forty years later, their mission statement has evolved to be inclusive of additional technology but remains fairly similar. Below is a recent campaign that celebrates brilliant minds making greatness behind the Mac, and it still resonates with their original mission. It’s because they’re in it for the long-game.
Another business that comes to mind as an infinite game player is a small bakery I discovered called Liguria Bakery. It’s a local family-owned Italian bakery located in North Beach of San Francisco that specializes in one thing: focaccia bread.
Liguria Bakery has been around since 1911 and throughout the decades remained resilient to the changing economy. When the Soracco family first opened the bakery they didn’t specialize in focaccia. They sold a range of baked goods from bread loaves to pastries. But as large corporations came in to take market share, Liguria realized they couldn’t beat their prices. So instead of finding other strategies to beat competition, they decided to approach this problem with an infinite mindset. They simplified their menu to just serving focaccia, believing that if they could make themselves known as the best focaccia bakery in town, they could be in it for the long-game.
Liguria Bakery has been operating for over a century now. And not only do they sell out of their breads by noon every day, but they also fulfill daily orders from local restaurants and markets all around San Francisco.
There are far and few between, but I’ve been lucky enough to come across a few wise artists who embody the infinite mindset. Timba Smits is an illustrator from the UK who collects inspiration from vintage newspaper clippings and 50s lettering. I admire his talents but I also love the way his personal work reflects the idea of taking things slow and steady.
In his interview for Max Brown Hotels, he reflected on this mindset in the following way,
“I have a whole lifetime to do this. There is no rush. Good things take time and great things take a lifetime—that’s my motto.”
To achieve longevity, we shouldn’t focus on short-term wins. Checking how your most recent post stacks against others doesn’t matter. Tracking how many more clients you worked with against others doesn’t matter. What matters most is how you’re actively making improvements with your career, business, or happiness for yourself.
It’s hard to consistently stick with the infinite mindset. Especially as a type-A person like me who finds pleasure in getting things done. But here a two things that helped me reduce the noise and stay focused on the long-term improvements:
Write out your mission and vision statements. Your mission is the quest you’re accepting in this long-term game and your vision is the desired future state that doesn’t exist yet. Make sure everything you do aligns to these statements.
Example: My mission is to draw letters to inspire creativity and active living, and my vision is to move people to start living a more creative and active life. Anything that falls outside of these areas, I now see as distractions that prevent me from having an infinite mindset.
Stop looking at your IG insights. It doesn’t matter.
Example: I used to check engagement stats to my posts and account daily but now I ignore these tabs completely. My mission isn’t to grow my Instagram following, my mission is to draw more letters that inspire creativity and active living. So as long as the work I produce fall into these categories, I know I’ll be happy.
I want to end this post with a perfect quote I pulled from the Farnam Street blog:
“What starts small compounds into something more. The longer you play the long game, the easier it is to play and the greater the rewards. The longer you play the short game the harder it becomes to change and the bigger the bill facing you when you do want to change.”