The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

The Game Visual Thinkers Play

A few weeks ago I watched an interesting CreativeMornings talk in which Simon Sinek described the current situation that millenials face in the workplace, and what to do about it.

Within that discussion Sinek brings up game theory and describes the two different types of games that exist: finite games and infinite games.

I found the distinction between the two to be a useful lens through which to view life in general and skill development in particular.

So let’s use that lens to look at the way you’re developing your visual note-taking skills.

First, let’s define the two types of games.

A Finite Game

The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

Sinek describes a finite game as having known players, fixed rules, and agreed upon objectives.

He talks about baseball as an example. Everyone knows the rules up front, and at the end of the game there is a winner and a loser.

In finite games you’re playing to beat those around you. For that reason, joy comes from comparison – it depends on you performing better than someone else.

An Infinite Game

The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

In an infinite game you’ve got known and unknown players, the rules are changeable, and the objective is to keep the game in play.

Business is an example of an infinite game, even though (as Sinek points out) many treat business as a finite game. The goal of business is to stay open, and that happens when a business makes a better product today than they did yesterday, even as the rules of business change, and as players come and go.

So in an infinite game, players are playing to be better than they were yesterday. For that reason, joy comes from advancement, from the progress that you make over time.

Our Game

The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

Here’s the game that I think we visual note-takers are playing: the game of living a curious and engaged life. That might sound a bit lofty to you, but I believe it’s the common denominator among all of us that are learning and using visual note-taking skills.

We’re developing these skills because they are a useful tool when working with ideas – they help us to be curious about and engage with those ideas on a deeper level than if we weren’t using this tool.

The game of living a curious and engaged life is an infinite one.

Different players will come and go throughout your life, the rules will change as your own circumstances change and as society changes around you, and the objective is to keep playing, which to me does not simply mean staying alive, but continuing to live in a particular way – fueled by curiosity and engagement.

The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

With that in mind it’s worth asking yourself: how are you approaching the development of your visual note-taking skills?

Are you comparing your notes to those you see on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter?

Or are you focusing on being a little bit better today than you were yesterday?

I think that the latter is a much healthier approach, and I see two ways to look at advancement, the source of our joy.

Advancement can come via the improvements in your visual note-taking skills. That’s what you’ll be able to see if, after a month of regular practice, you’re more confident in your skills.

But advancement takes another form as well – it’s the use of your visual note-taking skills to move some aspect of your life forward, to make progress on something in your personal or professional life.

One is building the tool. The other is using that tool in a meaningful way.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the first, of trying to create a pretty picture rather than trying to create something that helps you to make some sort of tangible progress on whatever it is you’re working on.

I’ve fallen into that trap many times before, but I think that this distinction between an infinite game and a finite game, along with the recognition that the game I’m playing is an infinite one, will help to keep me from falling into that trap in the future.

I hope that you find the same to be true.

Cheers,

-Doug

The Game Visual Note-Takers Play - Verbal To Visual - Doug Neill - visual thinking, sketchnote, graphic recording, infinite game, finite game

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Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

And if you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.