The Game of Continuous Improvement

August 5, 2015
Humans have an instinct for continuous improvement. It is in our nature and shown in our history. Our desire to ‘Be something or somewhere we are not’ is a force that governs an individual and our organizations, societies and cultures alike. Our goal to get from point ‘A’ to ‘B’ with increasingly greater speed and ease marks human advancement throughout time, and is arguably applicable to all human achievements in the sciences, humanities, economics and so forth. Our need for constant motion forms the basis of a perpetual game defined originally by James Carse in his book, Finite and Infinite Games, 1987.


Carse identifies the objective of the ‘Finite’ game as to navigate from starting point, ‘A’ to end point ‘B.’ What makes the game ‘Infinite’ is the re-calculation that point ‘B,’ upon its achievement, now becomes a new point ‘A,’ from which you launch yet another objective, defined as point ‘B.’  The voluntary aspect of participation begins with an acknowledgment of a game, and then a choice of when, where and how to play the game. Voluntary participants have a ‘critical awareness’, that indeed they are navigating path ‘A’ to ‘B’ with an agreed set of rules. As others follow in similar games, the challenge for a participant is, by nature, to navigate ‘A’ to ‘B’ better than their predecessors.  Possibility for an improvement is why the game is worth playing.


With an absence of or limited ‘critical awareness’, individual participation in the game is involuntary and upon arrival at point ‘B’ you could be unclear about why you arrived at this destination or where to go next. Uncertain of your current position or the sight of a new destination, you may not know how to progress. Without reference, your game and future games may falter. If you don’t know where you are, how do you know where to go?  To correct your course, search for the critical awareness necessary to find your reference point for ‘A’, take a sighting of your goal ‘B’, line up your compass, and begin to play.


A motivation for a business to navigate from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ is simple compared to that of the individual. However, the path is more complicated.  The greater the number of individuals needed to coordinate their efforts to achieve point ‘B,’ the more riddled the path.  A good leader would not deny that continuous improvement, constant movement and improvement from point ‘A’ to ‘B’ is essential to stay relevant and competitive; but within any organization, there exists a multitude of understandings, or perhaps interpretations, of how to contribute to the game.


Critical awareness of the ‘game’ and alignment of your personal and business goals with those of other players is key to sustain a trajectory of improvement and growth. J.P. Flaum, Managing Partner, Green Peak Partners discovered, in a study in 2010 with Cornell University, that “soft values drive hard results,” and identified that “a high self-awareness score was the strongest predictor of overall success.”  Setting a goal, example Making a profit that will translate to shareholder value, sounds simple, but an orchestration of many games of  ‘A’ to ‘B’ is a challenge for even the most experienced leader.