The Infinite Game

It is easy for people to view education or schooling as something finite. There is a clear starting and end point with a student’s schooling/learning and once it’s done, it’s done.

But that is not the way we see it at Cedars.

As our current Year 12 students are in their final days of HSC examinations, I spoke to and encouraged our new Year 12 class and their parents as they begin what can be seen as a daunting HSC journey together. I talked about the difference between a ‘finite game’ and an ‘infinite game’.

Well regarded analyst Simon Sinek explains it like this:

“In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified.

In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.”

Companies that have big visions of ‘changing the world’ play an infinite game and are often more successful than the companies whose goal is to simply to ‘be number 1!’ or to beat the competition. That is a finite game and, after that, what is there? We see this in elite sport. Players who achieve their life long goal of winning a gold medal or being number 1 in the world in sports such as golf or tennis can often end up in a state of depression or despair.  Once they’ve achieved that goal, what else is their for them to do in this life.

The Higher School Certificate (HSC) is a finite game. It has a start and a finish. The players are known (every other HSC student in the state).  There are very clear and strict rules (no cheating, no plagiarisms) and, in regard to their being ‘winners and losers’,  the ‘system’ is set up to compare students against each other and put them into a rank order (the ATAR). Even though it goes unsaid, the students know they are being compared by the system, and so spend their time comparing themselves with each other. This comparison is often unhealthy.

At Cedars, we don’t view the HSC as the final siren, or the finish line. We are playing an infinite game. Our mission is not to produce students who achieve a particular ATAR score. Yes, their academic success is important, but is only part of the story of their lives in an infinite game. Our mission in this Christian environment is to inspire learning, develop leaders, and equip our students for success in life beyond school. Our hope for them is that they would use their time here at Cedars as a springboard to launch into a life of significance and that they would impact their world for the better, not just for the present, but also for future generations.

A threat to our students and their future is when they have a finite mindset in this infinite game called ‘life’. With a finite mindset they would view their ATAR as the number that determines their future. If they don’t get the rank they were after,  graduates have the potential to feel defeated.

Many students across the country who have completed their HSC head off and party hard at ‘schoolies’. This can be toxic for graduates.  Cedars is now partnering with ‘RedFrogs’ who care for and protect school leavers and uni students in the middle of a party culture. They get them home safely, make sure they are cared for and support them to make wise choices. I was at a recent Red Frogs fundraiser in the lead up to schoolies and heard their mission which I fully endorse: “To Safeguard a Generation”. You see, they are playing the infinite game. They recognise that the future of our nation sits in the hands of our school graduates, and they don’t want to lose any of them to drugs, alcohol or suicide.

Parents and teachers have always played the infinite game when it comes to their children/students. It seems that our systems and educational bureaucracy in Australia are starting to catch up. Universities are becoming less reliant on ATARS to select students for their degrees and the ATAR itself seems to be on its ‘last legs’. Universities now recognise that an academic mark does not inform them about the character of a person. A finite comparison of students academically, at one point in time, does not determine if that student would make a good ambassador for their university. So now more than ever,  they are seeking to enrol the ‘best people’. Universities consult with a potential student’s school, look at their past reports to predict a student’s academic ability, and now they also consider their wider resume. This can include sporting participation, community service, leadership experience, and other extracurricular opportunities participated in by the student.  This is a much better way to predict success at university compared to an ATAR rank.

I was pleased this year to see all the early entry offers come rolling in for our HSC students this year. Below are some of the courses our students received early entry into before they even sat their final examinations. We know they are amazing young people with a bright future and I am glad the universities think the same.

At Cedars we recognise that our students’ schooling journey is finite and we strive to prepare each of our students for their ‘whole’ lives including the wonderful future ahead of them.  We see the infinite and want them to see it too.

In fact we believe that life is eternal and the choices we make in this life echo through the generations. The best way we know how to do that is to connect them with the eternal God and when we view the world and ourselves the way He does, it is much easier to keep an infinite mindset rather than a finite one.