This is a completely recent discovery to me – how and when quantity could be more important than quality? I was always convinced that i (and we) need to focus on quality first and whatever job or task i (and we) do – produce only qualitative product. After reading a book “The First 20 hours” (2014) by Josh Kaufman, where the author also discussed the findings of another book “Art & Fear” (2001) by David Bayles and Ted Orland, i have changed my mind: quantity should indeed come in front of quality.
Lets start with the story from the “Art & Fear”: “The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being grated on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A. When come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay”.
The story does make sense and not only in arts, but other fields. I started to recall and connect with another wise idea by my very dear friend. We were having a long lasting emailing to each other and once she said that there is no point in continuous rewriting and refining of the message, there is no need to delete and recreate the content to sound it better and be expressed in a more beautiful style. She wanted to write and receive my raw writings, since the idea is there anyway and sometimes depicted in a much nicer (unorthodox) shape. We are not writing to each other anything formal, so the content, the creativity, the raw feelings are what is important, and not to correct all the mistakes. I was thinking and rethinking about this idea many times and decided to write freshly without deleting as much as possible. It was hard at first, but i still use this technique. Not always, but quantitative writing indeed opens new horizons. Beside new discoveries, writing in quantity saves time, since you don’t need to edit and refine too much.
Another example – was trying to communicate with a another good friend by google chat and started to hardly edit my writings, since wanted to formulate correct sentence, correct idea. I did not wanted to be misinterpreted and so everything was written in a deep contemplation stage, super slowly, deleting hundred of times and still not finding the way how to express. As the discussion progressed i found myself even into more difficulties. One stop probably influenced another stop. In the end, my friend was expecting a smooth flow, but what i could do – is just think and rethink, but not write anything what i wanted. On opposite, my friend started to question even more actively and i even started feeling some doubt or disappointment, irritation from friend. At some point i just was so stuck that decided just to write a flow of what comes to my mind and this helped a lot – soon my thoughts were coming into some alignment. Perhaps, a lot of things are already inside, it just needs to be released (i will write about this later in other post).
Third thought that comes to my mind about quantity is personal example from work as a financial analyst. My usual task was to analyze some company that is listed in the stock exchange and present the evaluation and recommendation to the colleagues, who either (colleagues from sales department) subsequently transfer the recommendation to the clients or (investment managers) invest themselves. I often strove for the perfection, but had limited time. As a result, it often became refining and making evaluation model and presentation “beautiful”, instead of focusing on the quantity – reading all sorts of information related to the company. Retrospectively, the recommendation is as good, as the inputs are good. You can make the recommendation very analytical and sophisticated, with many great diagrams and models, but if you missed some important information and overlooked some important details, the recommendation will be wrong. Thus, quantity should be the priority in any research and only then goes quality.
After realizing the importance of quantity, many other examples could follow. For instance, my master thesis was started with quality, failed, then i thought “ok, lets not think about the quality, i will do it later”. In addition i consciously avoided counting the pages and following the guidance. As a result, my thesis became 160 pages, while the requirement was from 40 to 80 pages. I had to trim and it was long and painful process, but in the end the thesis was awarded with the maximum grade. This illustrates that probably i had some good and bad ideas and once i had to shrink the content, i stayed with the most interesting discoveries and the rest was placed in appendix.
Of course, we need to look at this healthy – quantity is more important for a start, but at some point quality must overcome and be the most important. Quality is especially important when results are presented to someone else or the outcome is critical and there could be no error. Then, better to keep the quantity to yourself and present quality outcome or at least to clearly state about the quality issue. If the quality is missing, then other person might need to repeat the work or the outcome could produce errors.
I am fond of quality element in everything and try to do everything most qualitative myself, but behind the curtains of any qualitative process should come first quantitative experimentation and iteration. What do you think?