Collaboration: An Infinite Game

A deep transformation is taking place across every organization, every region, every economy. It’s a shift from closed, linear hierarchical thinking to more open, adaptive network thinking.

But there’s a problem.

We are facing this transformation with outdated tools, frameworks, and mindsets. That’s why we designed #strategicdoing. It’s an open-source discipline for collaboration, open innovation, and ecosystems.


Humankind faced this transformation before.

In the 1830s. At the dawn of the Industrial Age.

And we have a reliable guide to those times: Alexis de Tocqueville, a French lawyer.

Tocqueville toured the U.S. in 1834 and packed valuable insights into his book, “Democracy in America”. Among his insights: “The world is altogether new. We need to ask new questions, create new categories.”

In other words, we can’t approach our current challenges by looking in the rearview mirror. We need to reflect on our thinking.


Here’s a quick guide to getting your thinking unstuck.

From Clock Problems to Cloud Problems.– Karl Popper, the famous philosopher of science, pointed out that we face two different types of problems. Clock problems are mechanistic. To understand them, you take them apart.

Cloud problems are different. They are ambiguous, complex, and dynamic. You need to approach them differently. You embrace a “spirit of inquiry” or experimentation, as a pragmatist like John Dewey has suggested.

From Organizations to Ecosystems.– Organizational management — the emergence of the hierarchical organization — explains why the Industrial Revolution changed the trajectory of human development.

But this approach is no longer adequate. Solutions to our complex challenges cross organizational boundaries. Like it or not, we are now in the ecosystem business.

From Stakeholders to Partners.– Another legacy of industrial thinking, the concept of stakeholders focuses us on human-defined boundaries. We find ourselves too often trapped behind these invisible fences.

Ingenious solutions to complex problems emerge from linking, leveraging, and aligning our assets across these boundaries. These collaborations take place among partners.

From Pipelines to Pathways.– We often see this thinking when we talk about education and training. We are told we need to create new “pipelines”. In contrast to this thinking, we need to enable people to find new pathways.

From Pillars (and Directives) to Platforms (and Process).– Consultants often fall into this trap. They present their findings about agility in terms of “pillars”. Instead of focusing on building pillars, we need to shift our thinking to designing new platforms on which ecosystems can form.

From Competition to Collaboration.– Philosopher James Carse has made the distinction between finite and infinite games. Finite games have clear boundaries and rules.

In contrast, players in infinite games don’t really care when their game began. Nor do they know when it ends.

Competing for a share of a fixed market is a finite game. Sustainability and regeneration — adapting to a continuously shifting environment — is an infinite game.

Competition makes sense in a finite game. Collaboration makes sense in an infinite game.