How to Play the Game of Life Better

If you must play, decide on three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes and the quitting time

Chinese proverb

This ancient wisdom applies to much more than just traditional games. It guides you in your daily activities, careers, and personal life. But have you ever paused to ask yourself: What game am I playing? And do I know these three crucial elements?

Understanding the Game

The game you’re playing might be an actual game, a metaphor for work, or a broader approach to life. Regardless, knowing the type of game you’re engaged in is essential. Are you in a finite game with clear winners and losers or an infinite game to keep playing and improving?

The Rules of the Game

Finite and Infinite Games:

  • Finite games have defined players, fixed rules, and an endpoint. Examples include sports, most board games, and traditional business models that aim for specific quarterly targets.
  • Infinite games are played to continue playing, adapting, and evolving. Think of personal growth, relationships, and long-term business strategies. James Carse, the original thinker behind this concept, said, “Infinite players play to keep playing.”

Setting Goals:

  • Define your goals clearly. Set specific, measurable objectives for a finite game. For infinite games, focus on vision and continuous improvement.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Even in an infinite game, having a vision helps guide your ongoing efforts.

The Stakes

Understanding the stakes is about knowing what you stand to gain or lose. This involves assessing risks, potential rewards, and the broader impact of your actions.

Antifragility:

  • Adopt the concept of being antifragile. As Nassim Taleb explains, antifragile systems thrive under uncertainty and volatility. Design your approach to benefit from shocks and disruptions rather than merely survive them.
  • Manage the downside and the upside. Make decisions that allow for flexibility and reversibility.

Making Reversible Decisions:

  • Embrace experimentation. When decisions are reversible, you can afford to take risks, learn, and iterate.
  • Build a portfolio of small bets. Spread your risks to ensure failure in one area doesn’t jeopardize the whole game.

Quitting Time

Knowing when to quit is just as important as knowing how to play. This doesn’t mean giving up at the first sign of difficulty but recognizing when persistence is no longer productive.

Strategic Quitting:

  • As Seth Godin points out in “The Dip,” winners quit fast, often, and without guilt—until they commit to beating the right dip.
  • Evaluate your progress regularly. If a strategy isn’t yielding results and shows no signs of improvement, it might be time to pivot.

Signs It’s Time to Quit:

  • Diminishing returns: When continued effort doesn’t significantly improve outcomes.
  • Better opportunities: Resources are freed to pursue more promising ventures when quitting.

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