Play infinite games
A finite game is played to win. An infinite game is played for the sake of playing. Business is the archetype of an infinite game. Science is an infinite game too. Rather than chasing promotions or the next big thing whose rewards quickly fade, the game should be played over the long term.
Eric Weiner, the author of two of my favorite reads — Geography of Genius and Socrates Express, has remarked on the power of 3-4 mph for thinking. Throughout history, scientists and philosophers have taken to the streets and paths to clear their minds and think.
However, I disagree with Eric, because I find 6-7 mph is much more conducive. To clear my head, I often run. Not because I race or want to be fast. I continue despite no finish line. Why do something with no finish line?
In 2018, Simon Sinek published The Infinite Game, where he wrote,
..infinite games have no finish line and the goal is to keep the game going as long as possible.
A finite game is played to win. An infinite game is played for the sake of playing. Business is the archetype of an infinite game. Rather than chasing promotions or the next big thing whose rewards quickly fade, Sinek argues that business should be played over the long term. Long time horizons change the game.
In the 1960s, Roy Amara a Stanford computer scientist told colleagues that he believed that “we overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term and underestimate the effect in the long run.” Bill Gates has said something similar.
"People overestimate what they can accomplish in a week, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a year" — Bill Gates
The purpose of infinite games is to make decisions that enable the game to persist; for the players to keep playing. Beyond business, infinite games are everywhere, including in science. The best scientists work with this mindset. In science, there is no end of the game; no finish line; no winners and losers. Instead, there is only playing or not playing, only currently ahead or currently behind.
Burnout is often the consequence of having the wrong mindset and treating work as a finite game. When you think "If I can only make X amount this year", or "Once I have achieved Y, I'll finally slow down", you are playing finite games. But the truth is that the game doesn't work that way. The practices and habits you develop on the way towards your goal, and the costs you incur along the way, become the burdens you carry once you've reached it.
That's why preventing burnout is easier than it is to recover from it. How? By approaching your work with the mindset of an infinite game and goal to stay in the game. Because the longer you do, the more likely you are to achieve everything you want from it.
Science isn't a sprint. But it's also not a marathon. There is no finish line. Instead, science is an infinite game. Like running, you have a choose a pace, a system, and an approach to keep going.