Are You a Finite or Infinite Player?

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2020 has thrown curveball after curveball at small- and medium-sized businesses. Those with adaptive leadership are best suited to survive the pandemic, economic downturn, and political turmoil. Adaptive leadership starts by understanding what kind of game you are playing: finite and infinite.




Finite games have known players, set rules, a point at which they begin and end. They have winners and losers.


Infinite games have known and unknown players, constantly changing rules, and continue forever. There are no winners in infinite games. A player’s sole objective is to stay in the game as long as possible. When a player runs out of the resources and/or will to play, they lose.



Finite games include applying for and winning a job, beating last quarter’s numbers, or being the best in a particular industry. Whereas, staying in business is the infinite game.


Players choose, consciously or unconsciously, to be finite or infinite players. This choice fundamentally shapes their strategic decision-making.


Finite players can weigh every decision in an environment with set rules and predictable outcomes. They formulate a strategy based on What – on their Interests. Their process is to assess the costs and benefits of every decision. If Option A offers a net benefit of $25k and Option B offers a net benefit of $35k, a finite player will always choose Option B.


An infinite player has no information about the choices they will confront. They need a broad and flexible strategy to navigate the uncertainty. Therefore, they allow Values to govern all of their future decisions. The infinite player’s decision-making process becomes a very different set of questions.


What are my values? Does Option A align with my values? Does Option B align with my values?


If an infinite player values client trust and Option B involves setting false expectations for clients, the player would choose Option A despite yielding $10k less net benefit.


The finite player does not see this threat to quality client relationships, pursues their interests over their values, and erodes their market position in the long-term. Eventually the finite player will run out of resources and have to quit playing.


Adaptive leadership starts by setting organization values. This is a conversation that should include all stakeholders; including employees. By incorporating stakeholders in this process, a leader enables them to take ownership of the agreed upon values. In turn, this will produce greater commitment to values-based decision-making as well as general accountability.


Once values have been set, adaptive leaders should normalize values-based self-reflection for their stakeholders. This can be as simple as a weekly Socratic Review exercise asking five questions:

  • How did my actions this week uphold our organization’s values?
  • Why were these actions positive?
  • How did my actions this week work against our organization’s values?
  • Why were these actions negative?
  • Where is my opportunity to improve?


By normalizing this self-reflection, a leader enables their stakeholders and subordinates to reform decision-making behaviors. With enough practice, values will drive decisions instead of interests and the organization will become an infinite player.


Organizations that achieve infinite player status will improve employee satisfaction, the quality of client relationships, and the quality of partner relationships. All three have a direct, significant, and measurable impact on financial performance in the long-term.


How do you make a workplace decision? Whether you are seeking support to become an adaptive leader or just want to share your process, we invite you to book a free, thirty-minute, virtual Get-to-Know-You Meeting today!

Joseph Rasmus

Joseph Rasmus is a Project Consultant with the L M Thomas Group.

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[email protected]

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[email protected]