Are you with us, or against us?
Think about the games you're playing. Are you competing with the other players in the game, or are you competing against them?
Two ideas I've been captivated by in recent months are (1) the idea of infinite games and (2) mastery.
An infinite game is a game with no finish line. The point of the game is to keep playing, to stay in the game and keep it going.
Mastery is a mindset, a posture that approaches any medium from the long view. Embracing the long arc of never-ending improvement and ever deeper expression.
They seem related, but how do these fit together? And how do they frame the way we approach competition?
First, embracing the infinite game provides context for everything you do. It supports resilience through the emotional roller coaster of a finite game. When you know the game you're really playing, you're secure in that context. And it's easier to adjust your approach without losing your center or sense of direction.
Once you've embraced an infinite context, then mastery is the mindset or posture to play from.
The mastery mindset is one which embraces the path of endless, goalless practice. This posture is the hallmark of the true master in any field. The mastery mindset is the most practical posture to both go the distance and enjoy the ride. It would suck to go on a never-ending journey without enjoying the ride itself. The mastery mindset helps make the infinite game inherently rewarding to play.
So, if we're playing an infinite game with a mastery mindset, how do we think about the idea of competition?
One of the five things that you need to play the infinite game on a finite level is a worthy adversary.
In an infinite game, the only true competitor is yourself. We are always competing to be better than we were yesterday. To better fulfill our vision, to become more of who we're trying to be. This is true at all levels: individual, team, organization, or society.
How to view external competitors, then?
Everyone else is there to reveal our weaknesses to us, so we can improve. They are there to provide the stimulus that pushes us to get better.
We need them. We need them to push us to see and reach for new levels of our own potential. Nobody does their fastest time alone. They do it in a race, with others.
This is what it means to compete with the players in the game. Here, we're each competing to be better than ourselves, together.
Or, we can compete against the other players in the game. Here, we're each competing against the others, by ourselves.
Are we trying to see how good we can be, trying to do something better than it's ever been done before? Or are we just trying to beat them?
It turns out that "with us or against us?" is a matter of perspective. A choice. And yes, one choice works better.
One burns out. The other burns on.