I remember the first time I visited Times Square in New York. I had seen so many different angles of it on television and in the movies. Through this exposure, I formed a rather elaborate mental image of how it must feel to be there. When I first visited, I distinctly felt the world shrinking. In one sense, this was because there was one fewer unknown place to me. The percentage of the world I had not seen was smaller. Yet, there was a greater sense in which the world had become smaller. It was less than I had expected.
In other times of my life, I have felt the world growing. One notable occasion was my first trip to Colombia. I had a general idea of what this South American country might be like, but I wasn’t overexposed as I had been to media depictions of Times Square. Nevertheless, when I visited, I had a much different response than when I visited New York. I felt the world become larger. Even though the percentage of the world I had not yet visited had decreased, having encountered this fertile and vibrant cultural environment, I felt that I received a new glimpse into surprising new dimensions. As I consider this phenomenon, it reminds me of the growth mindset and infinite games.
A Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck has advanced the concept of a growth mindset through her influential research, which is summarized and explained in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success . In the book, Dweck considers the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something that can be developed rather than a fixed trait.
A fixed mindset is prone to avoiding challenges and giving up easily when encountering obstacles, seeing effort as fruitless, ignoring criticism, and feeling threatened by the success of others. A growth mindset is ordered toward embracing challenges and persisting through them, seeing this as a path to mastery. A growth mindset learns from criticism and celebrates and finds inspiration in the success of others. If we are oriented toward experiences that would make our world bigger or larger, I suspect we would also share many of the features of a growth mindset.
The concept of an infinite game is a core concept in James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility . A finite game has a clear terminus. It usually also has a clear winner, which means it also has one or more losers. This is a form of a zero-sum game. For one person to gain, others must lose an amount equal to the winnings.
But an infinite game is different. It does not have a terminus; it is intended to continue indefinitely. As such, there are no clear winners or losers. The goal is not to get to the end with the most points, money, market share, or brand recognition. The goal is to keep playing. This radically alters the motivations and methods for each player. For example, players in infinite games are more likely to cooperate and to see the greater benefit to everyone—and even the personal benefit—of perpetuating the relationship.
I much prefer living in a world that is “getting bigger.” It makes for a richer life to be open to and even expect to enter an expanse while acknowledging that we may grow and develop personally. Life is not a zero-sum game. Our relationships to one another and to the world in general can and should be profitable.