Tag Archive | Synergy

Meta-Magic


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How come you no longer play Magic the Gathering?

I discovered the principles that underlie what I love about Magic: Modularity and Synergy.

I call Modularity the principle behind Magic’s Lego-like structure, the property of the pieces that make up the game to combine in myriad ways. In the words of Mark Rosewater, Magic’s head designer:

Magic is really not one game but a series of different games connected by a shared rule set and game pieces.

I call Synergy the principle behind what in Magic (and other similar card games) is called a combo. The pieces that make up the game can combine to produce an emergent effect more powerful than the individual pieces. 

Understanding the principles allowed me to transcend the game. I’m now playing a meta-game.

What meta-game?

“The meta-game of Language and Meaning. It’s a game with extraordinary practical application, governed by the same principles as Magic: Modularity and Synergy. Units of language and meaning are modular elements. They can be combined to form new emergent structures. Think of all the two-word concepts I’ve been creating. Those are synergistic structures – combos.

Magic will always be a part of me. I’m now playing Magic even while not playing Magic.”

Quotes as Resource: Quote Combos

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are quote combos?”

“In Magic the Gathering, cards can be combined to achieve an emergent effect more powerful than the individual cards. I call the underlying principle, Synergy. In the game’s terminology, a synergistic combination of cards is called a combo.

By default, people think of quotes as single entities. However, just like in Magic, quotes can be combined to amplify their effect. This is what I call a quote combo.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Sure.

Less but better. (Greg McKeown, Essentialism)

The small things are the big things. (Josh Waitzkin)

How you do anything is how you do everything. (Josh Waitzkin)

This is a powerful quote combo that expresses an essential aspect of my life philosophy. I have it pinned on the desktop of my computer to see it at all times.”

Levels of Organization

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What do you mean by levels of organization? How are they different from levels of magnification [<link; medium read]?

Levels of magnification are based on scale.
Levels of organization are based on systems.

Every aspect of reality can be thought of as a series of nested systems. Systems within systems within systems.

Like those matryoshka dolls?

Precisely.

The smallest elements combine to form larger elements, which combine to form larger elements, which themselves combine to form larger and larger and larger elements.

I call this process Chunking

Every level of organization can be metaphorically thought of as a ‘chunk‘. A chunk is an emergent higher-order level that contains all lower-order levels.

I call the capacity of the elements to combine and form new configurations of elements with emergent properties, Modularity.

Some elements make better combinations than others. We might think of them as having a connectivity potential. I call this potential, Synergy.

Question Combos

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are question combos?”

“Combo is a term from Magic the Gathering. In the context of the game, a combo is a combination of cards that work well together. They’re synergistic. Combined, they amplify each other, producing an emergent effect.

Similarly, a question combo is a synergistic combination of questions.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Sure.

Question + Opposite Question (Inversion)

What is the best decision?
What is the worst decision?

How to succeed at x ?
How to fail at x ?

How to x ?
How to not-x ?

Two models of creativity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is creativity?”

“To quote Steve Jobs,

Creativity is just connecting things.

I call this the Connections model of creativity.

Creativity is Connecting.

I must say, I love this model. I love it so much that I have the word ‘Connections’ tattooed on my right forearm.”

“I like to pair it with another model.

I call it the Patterns model of creativity.

Creativity is Patterning.

By Pattering I mean two things: 

Pattern-Recognition
Pattern-Restructuring

As concerns pattern-recognition, there’s a quote that’s been stuck on my mind for a very long time:

Genius is only a superior power of seeing. (John Ruskin)

In a flash of insight, I realized that Ruskin’s ‘superior power of seeing‘ is pattern-recognition. The creative genius looks at the same things everyone else looks and consistently sees something different. It’s like he lives in a different reality.”

“Maybe genius is often a polymath because different disciplines give you different ways of seeing reality.

Take Parkour for instance. Once you’ve been practicing for a while, you develop what practitioners call ‘Parkour Vision‘, and from that moment on, the environment is never the same.

By extension, many disciplines (if not all) develop their own kind of similar ‘Vision’. Viewed as a template [<link; medium read], I call it ‘X Vision‘:

– Design Vision
– Poetry Vision
– Photography Vision
– Humor Vision
– Systems Vision
etc.”

“Interesting idea.

As concern pattern-restructuring, it has two components:

Pattern-Making
Pattern-Breaking

Pattern-restructuring is essentially Lateral Thinking. Breaking internal patterns (eg habit-breaking) or external patterns (eg rules-breaking), and creating new patterns that have value.

The two models are complementary. We might call them synergistic models – a combo, to use Magic the Gathering terminology.”

On Magic and Models 6

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are the most useful mental models you’ve learned from Magic the Gathering?”

“Two of them especially stand out: Modularity, and Synergy.”

“What is the essence of Modularity?”

“The basic elements that make up the game of Magic can be combined in a variety of ways. The fact that they can be combined can be thought of as an inherent property of those elements. I call this inherent property, Connectivity. I call the elements that have this property, modular-elements.

Some modular-elements can connect with more elements than others. We might say each modular-element has a certain connectivity-potential.

Now, imagine that you find some Magic cards without knowing the rules of the game. Would you be able to combine them?” 

“I guess not. The cards can be combined only within the context of the game.”

“Magic is a modular-system. The modular-elements that make up the system can be combined only within the system. I call these, contextual modular-elements.”

“Can you give some examples of modular systems?”

“One classic example is Lego. Another, less obvious example, is language. The most profound example is the Universe. Everything in the Universe is made up of combinations of the same basic building-blocks. The chemical elements are modular-elements. What we call “reality” is a modular-system.

“What is the essence of Synergy?”

“Modularity refers to a certain kind of elements – modular-elements.
Synergy refers to a certain kind of connections between those elements – I call these, synergistic-connections. In Magic terminology, a synergistic-connection is called a Combo.

The essence of synergistic-connections is Emergence. Two elements synergistically combined produce a higher-order structure or effect that is different than the sum of its parts. Viewed in terms of value, I call this, emergent-value.

We’ve talked a while ago about my love of playing with making connections between things – what I called the Connections Game [<link; short length]. We might say the essence of the Connections Game is the discovery of emergent-value.”

On Work and Rest

A human being is the kind of machine that wears out from lack of use. There are limits, of course, and we do need healthful rest and relaxation, but for the most part we gain energy by using energy. (George Leonard, Mastery)

A change of work is as good as rest.


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Is a change of work really as good as rest?”

“Depends on the work.

Mental and physical work go beautifully together. They’re synergistic.

Physical work is wonderful rest from mental work, and energizes you for the next session of mental work.”

Beautiful Models: Skill-Stacking

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is skill-stacking?”

“It’s an idea I know from Scott Adams.

Scarcity creates value. 

In order to be successful in life, you need to make yourself scarce. You can achieve that in two ways:

Become the best at one skill. (very hard)
Become very good at a combination of skills.

The more unique (and useful) the combination, the better off you will be.

We can expand the idea by thinking of it in terms of synergy.

The more synergistic the combination of skills, the more powerful their combined effect. We might call this synergistic skill-stacking, or skill-combo.

I’ve read a book about polymaths [<link] recently, and the author makes the interesting observation that synergistic skill-stacking is one of the defining characteristics of polymaths.”

“So the idea is not just to combine skills, but to artfully combine them.”

“Yes. 

I find it useful to create a map for the process – a skill-stacking map.

Something like this:

My skill-stacking map

“Thinking of it as a system, what is its function?”

Adaptability.