Jazz improvisation, "licks" and the path of least astonishment

Here is a hidden message in many creative disciplines, which seems to go counter to what we may think our goals of originality mean: "It is better to sound like somebody else than nobody at all."

There is much pressure in the creative arts, in which I do include aspects of computer programming, to do things in new and surprising ways. The problem is that the journey from the capacity to have surprising and original thoughts, to the actual realization in code or in musical technique is not an easy one, nor a quick one.

It is often advisable, then, to think in terms of the best approach to getting the job done with "the path of least astonishment". Effective surprise is one thing, but surprise without a clearly communicated intent is merely novelty.

When you learn the jazz language you learn "licks". These licks allow you to internalize the master's style, bridging the gap between the desire to have your own style, and being able to perform the music in a way that is competent without sacrificing your stage presence or the quality of the music you create.

So we find that established patterns in computer programming get us "from here to there" in a way that can communicate the intent of the program not only to the machine but also to other developers in a way that can foster discussion and improvement without a lot of head scratching and WTFs/minute.

And finally, quotes:

"Don't try to be different. Just be good. To be good is different enough."

  • Arthur Freed

"O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
...to be understood as to understand." - Prayer of Saint Francis