Simplicity and improvisation

While writing my previous post on the film game, I was thinking about simplicity and improvisation. About how if you seek to improvise, in order to improvise well, you would rather choose a simple base. Like how the simplicity of film aata allows you to improvise so much and create so much fun. I was thinking about this in several contexts.

This concept first entered my mind back in class 11, when a mridangist classmate told me that for all music competitions, he would choose to play the aadi taaLa. His funda was that the simple and intuitive 8-beat cycle in this taaLa let his mind free of conforming to the base and allowed him to use all his energy in improvisation.

Thinking about it, though I have little domain knowledge, I would consider it very unlikely that a Carnatic performer would choose a vakra raaga for the “main piece” of a concert. The main piece requires one to do extensive alaap and then taaLa and requires a lot of improvisation and creative thinking on the part of the performer. Now, a vakra raaga (one where there are strict rules governing the order to notes) would impose a lot of constraints on the performer and he would be spending a large part of his energy just keeping track of the raaga and making sure he isn’t straying from the strict scales.

Starting from a simple easy base allows you to do that much more. It gives you that many more degrees of freedom to experiment, that many more directions to take your product in. If you build a sundae with vanilla ice cream, you can do pretty much what you want with it. However, if you use butterscotch, you will need to make sure that every additive blends in well with the butterscotch flavour, thus constraining your choices.

When the base for your innovation is itself fairly complicated, it leaves you with little room to manouever, and I’m afraid this is what occasionally happens when you are into research. You specialize so much and start working on such a narrow field that you will be forced to build upon already existing work in the field, which is already at a high level of sophistication. This leaves you with little choice in terms of further work, and you end up publishing “delta papers”.

Similarly in the management context, if you start off by using something complicated as your “base framework”, there aren’t too many things you can put on top of it, and that constrains the possibilities. There is even the chance that you might miss out on the most optimal solution to the problem because your base framework didn’t allow you to pursue that direction.

It is all good to borrow. It is all good to not reinvent the wheel. It is all good to stand on the shoulders of giants. However, make sure you pick your bases carefully, and not start on complicated ground. You will produce your best work when you give yourself the maximum choice.

4 thoughts on “Simplicity and improvisation”

  1. Having struggled doing research, I can’t agree with you more. I had sort of figured out what you are saying (although intuitively), while I wondered whether profs thought this way. Personally, I think many profs are the “delta” kind, but I happened to come across a site which talked on “method of research”, which aired similar views. This process is very efficient and saves a lot of time and energy.

  2. After reading the beginning, I was about to say: Oh wait, Strassen’s method and all the improvisations to the matrix multiplication problem! ( in particular: ). All too complex for practical implementation. All theoretical improvisations, nevertheless.

    You answered this in part, the ‘delta papers’. But these poor guys would hardly have a choice, given the problems they are trying to solve. So are you saying choose problems which can be attacked using simpler bases? ( and steer clear of the more sophisticated ones? )

    Think in science, most of the simple bases have been attacked already. Perhaps you want to be looking at political, social and economic problems in developing countries to get simpler 🙂

  3. Together with everything which seems to be building within this subject matter, your opinions tend to be rather stimulating. Having said that, I am sorry, but I can not give credence to your entire idea, all be it stimulating none the less. It seems to everyone that your commentary are not completely justified and in reality you are your self not really thoroughly convinced of the assertion. In any case I did take pleasure in reading through it.

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