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COMBINATION EFFECTS

In 1991, a computer game was published that made history actually seem cool to anyone who was not already a history major. Humbly named by Computer Gaming World as the "the best game of all time", the game series "Civilization" has sold more than 8 million copies.

As the ruler of a civilization, the player builds their empire from the ancient era up until modern near-future times. To survive through time, players have to develop faster than competing nations - through military, economic, social, and scientific innovations.

According to Computer Gaming World, the game "merely offered the most amazing blend of construction and destruction, creation and conflict that had ever been assembled in a computer game", and that "the addictive nature of having to see what happened next kept you playing into the night".

In recent years, there have been a series of copycat strategy games that focus primarily on historical military aspects. They miss out on the most interesting aspect of Civilization - how innovation progresses through time.

There is a gameplay mechanism where sometimes the discovery of a single innovation can set off a cascading effect of many more innovations. This occurs when the new innovation combines with other pre-existing innovations, creating multiple new innovations, which in turn combine and create more.





This process of combining existing innovations from diverse fields to create new innovations and push out the boundaries of what is possible is similarly described by Steven Johnson in "Where Good Ideas Come From".

The lesson: understanding combinations, and how they interact and feed off each other, is key to predicting the future.

Whether from the perspective of investing, idea generation, or innovation, this is a defining theme that crosses through several books I've written about on this site.