If you wanted to create a brilliant artwork, business deal or invention do you think you’d be better off spending an extensive period of time on one creation or spending all that time on many?
Bayles and Orland tell the story of ceramics teacher who graded half her class on quality – they would get an A if they produced the perfect pot. The other half were graded on quantity, they would get an A if they produced 50 pounds of pots. So who achieved the highest quality, the ones who focused on quality or quantity? Turns out the highest quality pots were all created by the students who had focused on quantity. While the quality group spent their time on creating one great pot, it was by taking all that messy action and learning from their mistakes that the quantity group achieved an even greater pot.
Science proves the point. Research by Dean Sminton at UC Davis has found a direct correlation between output and quality. The people with the best work usually produce the most work and, incidentally, some of the worst work! It’s learning from mistakes that makes us better. Picasso produced over 20 000 paintings, Edison held over a thousand patents and Einstein had nearly 250 publications. It turns out that you need lots of work to create great work.
I’ve seen this so clearly in my own life. I struggled at school. I was not innately talented or smart but I have written a best selling book, largely because I’ve written five. When I first started I was a terrible writer. I’m not saying that I’m about to win the Nobel prize for literature but I’m good. I’m good because I take action. Lot’s of it.
Of course if you’re going to take all that action you better love what you do. You can’t just like the idea of being a writer you actually have to like writing. It doesn’t always have to be easy or pleasurable. At times it can be difficult and painful but there’s got to be some love because all that quantity takes a massive quantity of time and energy.
So, what ever you want to be great at … it takes quantity to produce quality.