Very few books deserve to be re-read multiple times. Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse is one such masterpiece that you need to read not once, not twice…but infinitely, I believe!
And more so for a lawyer, especially if you own a business or are into legal practice.
The book starts with the following line: “There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.”
A must-read recommendation for all you book lovers out there.
While the book borders on life philosophy and goes much deeper than just being a business book, I will share a few things with you that sort of hit the ball out of the park for me.
And I will say it from a legal professional’s perspective.
It is NOT a finite game
For many who enter the legal “game”, they adopt this Finite Player mindset where they set out to achieve finite goals in their legal career. They would calculate every step they are going to take and would stick to the plan nonetheless.
Not an efficient approach.
It is important to recognize that the legal game is an infinite game and the only way to play is to be flexible in your planning and execution instead. You are not competing with anyone like in a finite game but only YOURSELF in this infinite game.
The trick is to perceive the finiteness in the infinite game instead. The game goes on forever. There’s no beginning; there’s no end. You have to become finite at times (e.g. secure that mandate, get promoted to partner, win that case, etc) but overall, this journey never ends.
So, what if you could not win this one case? What if you are not promoted last quarter? What if you did not secure that mandate you were wishing for? It does not matter.
Many more opportunities will come and go in this infinite game, my friend.
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The rules never stay the same
The rules of a finite game remain the same and help to decide who won and who lost. These rules don’t mandate what you must do but rather, restrict your freedom yet allow for choices within the respective boundaries.
The rules of an infinite game change with time and for a specific reason: to prevent anyone from winning the game.
Also, since the game evolves over time, new rules start popping up and old rules become outdated. As more and more players enter the game, you must strive to adapt to the new rules and conditions and optimize your game strategy likewise.
As a lawyer, you must understand the landscape is changing all the time. You have to figure out the trending opportunities and challenges and position your legal practice accordingly to the needs of the situation.
For example, new opportunities are cropping up during this COVID-19 crisis for lawyers who specialize in mergers and acquisitions, can work as insolvency resolution professionals and draft flawless technology contracts and negotiate with banks and financial institutions. (If you read our articles regularly, you know what to do.)
Remember, it’s a never-ending process without space-time boundaries.
Play with the boundaries
Nat Eliason writes, “Finite players play within boundaries, infinite players play with boundaries.”
That line holds deep meaning if you can get it though.
As a practising lawyer, you have to stretch your imagination at all times. Where finite players go wrong is that they get too rigid and practical due to the rules and boundaries controlling their actions. They do not perceive that they are “free” and they have imposed self-limitations on themselves.
On the other hand, infinite players don’t play for others but for themselves. They are proactive and initiate their own actions which are followed by the actions of other reactive entities.
Think about it. Most lawyers are so unimaginative that they repeat what others are doing. If others are printing business cards, they do it too. If others have posh chambers, they get it too. If others are spending hours at the local thana, they do it too. That’s playing within the boundaries of the game.
If you really want to succeed as a lawyer, you need to think outside the box and come up with your own unique ideas. Just know that anything is possible if you just believe.
Focus on the horizon, instead of the boundaries.
Focus on the future that has a future.
If the finite game is to flourish your legal practice during this lockdown, adopt your infinite mindset and think what you can do that others are not doing. Run live webinars, create doodles on LinkedIn, publish legal memes on Instagram, or…?
Start with this question. “What can I do, as a lawyer, that’s never been done before?”
One more thing…
This is a game. So remember to play and not approach it as work. This is a must and I will tell you why.
I can tell you first-hand that high performers have a superior tolerance for stress. They won’t crumble even when things are going out of hand or the future seems bleak. And if I am not wrong, the secret is that they are not playing in the short term. They are probably thinking much longer than you and I do.
In other words, they focus on the infinite game and not the finite one.
They know they are enjoying the game instead of chasing results. They rejoice in the fact that they have started something that would go on forever. It’s their choice whether they play or not. Remember, if you must play, you are not playing at all.
My first advice to any lawyer, struggling with his career, is to stop thinking of it as work and start to enjoy being a lawyer.
Even if you are someone with 20 years of experience, it is easy to get pegged to a particular mindset. Just close your eyes once and open it afresh. Not focusing on “nothing is working anymore”. Instead, with a new question, “what are the new rules are and how can I play this new game that I’m in?”
The fun begins then.
As Carse writes, “There is but one infinite game.”
In my opinion, it is to enjoy life, as a lawyer or not.
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