First Principles and Innovation

I think I communicate much much better when on GTalk than when I’m trying to write a blogpost. So henceforth, you’ll see more and more of my posts being copied from GTalk conversations that I’ve had. Anyways, this post is one such about this article in the New York Times which talks about knowledge stifling creativity.

I had to say this in conversation with Karthik Ashwin earlier today:

and i kinda agree about this other NYT article – on innovation
once you know some stuff, you get “conditioned”
your assumptions change
you so frequently have to use the “first principles” that you now start using “second principles”
and soon, if you’re really experienced, you’ll work using the “Nth principles”, and that will be your building blocks
you tend to think of everything in terms of these massive building blocks, and you are now conditioned against using smaller or more basic blocks – and are hence highly prone to missing out on stuff
Sent at 2:44 PM on Tuesday

Let me know your views on this.

As an aside, I consider myself to be a very “first principles” person. I try to remember things using only the very basic assumptions, and then derive everything else on the spot. I started using this strategy way back in 11th, and successfully implemented in the JEE despite the apparent lack of time. I had understood only the very basics, and ended up deriving some stuff on the spot in the exam hall.

A small story here. Back in 2005, in my fifth term at IIMB, I was teaching International Finance to a friend, who had earlier been a topper in Economics at St. Stephens (undergrad). As I tried explaining something that I thought was kinda complex, she asked me “what is the formula?”. I talked about the concept a couple of more times, but she wouldn’t relent. She just wanted “the formula”. Finally i just derived some stuff using the basics and stopped when I came up with some complex-looking equation, which she happily wrote down as “the formula” and went away.

Earlier: About the way economics is taught in India

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