Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘book reviews’

There are books that inspire. There are also people who inspire. This review is about a book that inspired a person who inspires. It also inspired that person to write a book to inspire people.

I’ve been following Simon Sinek for a bit now. For the past few years he’s been speaking about a way of looking at things that differs from the common view. He’s also written a book (releasing in October 2019) about it titled, “The Infinite Game.” This review isn’t about Simon, his videos, or upcoming book. It’s about the book that inspired him.

That book, by James Carse, is Finite and Infinite Games.

Unlike many of my recent reads, this one was a bit on the compact side, coming in at under 150 pages. The interesting thing to me approaching the book was how such a short volume had inspired Sinek to take its concept on the road.

In typical university professor process, Carse opens by describing the endpoints of a spectrum, games of a finite and infinite nature. He asserts these to be just that, endpoints. We are left to conclude that there are other games within the spectrum, but none are explored. Although this would have allowed for a larger volume, there really isn’t much point. If you’re the kind of person who buys this book and doesn’t appreciate that it’s been written by a philosophical / political / historical viewpoint, the additional material wouldn’t have enabled you to get any more out of it. On the other hand, if you do, you’ll have little difficultly extrapolating the spectrum and its related historical and political examples.

Once the groundwork is laid, the author spends a chapter exploring a seemingly obvious point. “No one can play a game alone.” This appeals to our sense of self. We exist in relationship to the not-self. We cluster our selves into communities in relationship to other communities and nation-states likewise.

From here, the book explores our traditional view of games. Winners and losers. We see how this binary / hierarchical viewpoint demands the existence of a time-bound context (world). For Whovians this represents a fixed point in time. Examples would be the 1962 United States World Series (baseball) champion or the victors of a battle. The interesting element of which is that of any fixed point in time, it never changes. It is never different. It also never improves. Implicit in this view is the requirement of losers as well as accepted, well-defined rules.

In the broader world we see analogs to zero sum games. We see companies constantly defining themselves in terms of being the number one firm in something contextualized by a specific time period. These tend toward ever increasingly pointless hair splitting. The question becomes, “to what end?”

An interesting point, which I’d not previously considered, was that finite games require an audience. That is witnesses. These serve to validate the victor and their victory. They also are responsible for carrying the memory of the event, anchoring it in time.

It is only now, two thirds of the way into the book, that the other end of the spectrum is examined. To do so, the author has us look to nature (well actually anything not contrived by human beings).

As one might have come to conclude, the world (and by extension universe) got along just fine without us and will probably to do again. Carse points out that in and of itself, the world has no narrative structure, it simply is. In the same way an infinite games is the complete opposite of a finite game. It has no fixed rules, no audience, no winners, no losers and is not time bounded.

So what is the point of an infinite game?

To keep playing.

Players come and go. Objectives change. But, at the end of the day, playing is its own motivation. In this view of the world, there are no enemies to be defeated, there are rivals to out do. Without rivals (other players) you aren’t playing a game. There is no attempt to reach a pinnacle, but rather to be pushed to exceed ones own success.

In a finite game you declare victory. Once at the top of the heap, it’s all down hill. Finite games are by their very nature self-limiting. There is no incentive to excel once you’ve attained supremacy. We have seen time-and-again companies creating new and innovative technologies only to hold them back because they were already number one. These same companies lost that position to others not held back by past glories.

I have seem many times how in the software world, companies have milked the “completed” product cow while at the same time refusing to invest in keeping that same cow current in terms of technology. It is only after decades of neglect that they realize that they can no longer add features and that a generation or two of graduates have passed by since anyone was taught how to work with the technologies used in said cash cow. And then the cow dies.

T.S. Elliot said, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; …” Pablo Picasso said, When there’s anything to steal, I steal” Steve Jobs spoke likewise. These are views of those constantly improving their craft. Learning from and incorporating the best we see in others vs. simply attempting to exploit the weaknesses we see is a hallmark of the infinite game player. The other players of their infinite games are not opponents but rather rivals. Opponents seek our defeat. Rivals seek our respect. Opponents want their fixed point in time. Rivals desire that every day we push them to be their best.

Not long ago, someone said to me, “unicorns want to be around other unicorns.” According to Guy Kawasaki, Steve Jobs said, “A players hire A players; B players hire C players; and C players hire D players. It doesn’t take long to get to Z players. This trickle-down effect causes bozo explosions in companies.” I prefer Eric Dietrich’s thought, “A Players Don’t Hire A Players — They Partner with A Players.”  We can look to the rise and fall of stack ranking in the technology world to see the negative impact of the finite game in a world where the goal is to create the future.

Upon finishing the book I was left with a sense of affirmation and sadness. I recommend this book to anyone who intends to undertake any endeavor over the long term.

 

 

Read Full Post »

A clever blog post title is a wonderful thing. What’s interesting is that I couldn’t improve on Adam Grant‘s book “Originals” title. In my previous post, I said that that book wasn’t for the individual looking for themselves. This one is, kind of.

The book begins with a quote from George Bernard Shaw,

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

or as Max Planck said,

New scientific ideas never spring from a communal body, however organized, but rather from the head of an individually inspired researcher who struggles with his problems in lonely thought and unites all his thought on one single point which is his whole world for the moment.

Thats’s it. 250 pages and a slew of references.

To be fair, to leave things there would trivialize the book.

There is an odd sense of wandering I got from this book. At one moment, it speaks to those who seek out the creatives. This felt like an art collector was speaking. At another, it focuses on the hardships of being a creative. Just when you think you’ve got a sense of that, there’s a shift to the economics of utilizing creatives and then thrust into the environment which produced them.

All of these chapters could have been the basis of books in their own right. At the end of the book I had the sense that I’d read a primer on the human equivalent of livestock breeding of prized but temperamental Mishima cattle.

I would recommend this book to technology leaders as a reminder of how the world advances (not improves, mind you, but advances) and how to leverage the creatives. I also recommend this book to those who swim against the current. Appreciate that creatives are looked upon by many as a rare resource to be cultivated and value-extracted. Know that although most people will never understand that drives you, these people server to keep us growing.

Read Full Post »

It’s been quite some time since my previous book review. As a result, I have a stack of books to review. Ironically, the first book is “The Motivation Myth” by Jeff Haden.

I always felt bad for Luke Skywalker when it came to his Jedi training from Yoda. “Do or do not, there is no try.” How is someone “too old to begin the training” expected to unpack that? As someone whose spent the better part of 40 years either learning about, implementing or teaching others how to do bleeding edge tech, I get the “shove them out of their comfort zone” thing. That being said, I also know that when dealing with creatures who learn by metaphor that you can’t expect someone to suddenly jump from 2D to 3D and be effective or even successful.

This book is a gentle reflection on why the concept of motivation (perhaps a better word would have been inspiration) has limited application in the sphere of accomplishment.

Each chapter is leads the reader confront a different myth regarding task success. It’s not some stoke-able flame, lighted path, aspirational mumbo-jumbo, or guru-led excursion through the swamp that accomplished tasks through you. It’s you, your hard work and preparation. Seneca the Younger said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Success is what happens when preparation meets execution.

At the end of the day, this book will benefit those who lack the mentors in their life to kick them in the ass every now and again. Self-doubt is inevitable, but action paralysis is not. Plan the work. Work the plan. Or as Gene Krantz (Failure is Not an Option) would say “work the problem.” Prepare, plan, execute, repeat.

Should you read this book? If you lead or mentor others, yes. It serves as a reminder that in a world of warm fuzzies, people have by-and-large come to expect success to come from outside themselves. We need to have high expectations for ourselves and others. If you are expecting that this book will make you as an individual successful, look elsewhere.

 

Read Full Post »

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: