Quality over quantity seems to be the mission statement of creatives. It’s the idea that your focus should be on creating something of quality rather than merely focusing on the numbers and creating lots of mediocrity—that’s totally understandable. While I believe in this motive, especially as it relates to business, it’s important not to follow it blindly or get it tattooed across your forehead. This is an exploration of when quantity and numbers take precedence over quality, and how you get better through doing more.
Quality is so alluring. We all want to create something of quality. While it may be alluring, it’s also extremely deceptive. Focusing purely on quality will stunt your growth—it’ll inhibit your creative ability. Quality over quantity often becomes an excuse for doing less; for not doing the necessary work.
You don’t need to ask better questions. You need to ask more questions. Better questions inherently come from asking more questions.
You don’t need to create better work. You need to create more work.
To be a better reader, read more.
To be a better writer, write more.
To be a better speaker, speak more (in front of people).
To be a better listener, listen more.
To be a better photographer, photograph more.
Better ideas come from generating more ideas.
Better solutions come from developing more solutions.
It’s about putting your back against the wall. When you do more, when you think more, or when you’re all out of ideas, you’re forced out of your comfort zone and have to be inventive. This is where innovation happens—when you exhaust yourself. Innovation isn’t clean-cut and pretty. Innovation isn’t strategic and planned. Innovation defies convention. Innovation is dirty and you have to fight for it.
“Quality is a probabilistic function of quantity.”
None of this is to say, quality doesn’t matter. Of course quality matters, however, by initially focusing on quantity you are increasing the likeliness of producing something of quality. The idea of focusing on quantity, of course, comes with the assumption that you are both willing and wanting to create something of quality.
In the early parts of the design process, I focus a lot on quantity and actively avoid quality. Yes, I actively avoid quality. When I first begin brainstorming and sketching for a project, it’s not important to be concerned with the results because the results only come out of having a process. For any given project, I start with a minimum of hundreds of sketches. Some may view this as extreme, however, in doing so I’m avoiding the low-hanging fruit. The low-hanging fruit are the easy ideas, the things that anyone else can think of or grab for themselves. By focusing on quantity I’m exhausting myself of conventional thinking, and begin digging into more intellectual and experimental work—work that is innovative and engaging. It’s about putting the numbers in early to put yourself in a position to create something of quality.
If we were to open the doors to the Boston Celtics gym in 2010, we would see Ray Allen on the court taking shots hours before his teammates arrived. Before anyone else steps on the court, he has taken up to 300 shots. He even did this before every game whether it was preseason, regular season, or the playoffs.
“I was playing golf one day,” Allen said. “I was trying to hit certain shots, that I would be standing over the ball and trying to figure out, well, I really didn’t know where this ball is going to go. Because I didn’t really practice it. And so, I started thinking. I would go to the golf course, and I would run straight to the driving range and I’d hit my driver, just try to get that right. And I would think I was ready to play the game. So once I stood over that 100-yard shot and I didn’t know where the ball was going to go, I started saying, I really need to practice this. I need to put time in so I know where this ball is going to go every time when I swing this club.”
“And I started thinking about it, and I was like, that’s similar to what I do on the basketball court. And I’m 24, 25 years old, and I’m thinking, there’s some moves that I don’t really practice. I go out on the floor and I just do it, and I get by on athleticism, but I don’t know exactly what the result is going to be.”
“But in a game, I can’t do that. I gotta do everything that I would do in a game, because the court doesn’t change. The only thing that changes is your defender. So I said, every shot that I take in a game, potentially that I could take in every spot, I’m going to start practicing.”
Ray Allen is now known as the best 3 point shooter in the history of basketball. He willfully admits to missing a lot of his practice shots, but that’s exactly their point—to be practice shots. The quantity is where you practice, and the quality is where you play the game. You can’t have one without the other. Allen was by no means obligated or expected to take up this pre-game routine, however, he recognized that he couldn’t rely purely on talent for making shots. If he wanted to make more 3 pointers then he had to shoot more 3 pointers.
Don’t be misled though. Quantity isn’t inherently better nor should it be applied to all aspects of your life. It’s important to avoid spreading yourself too thin; doing a lot of different things won’t help you grow. Instead, do more concentrated and focused work. What is your 3 pointer—what is your focus? When you determine your focus, develop a routine to practice at it day in and day out. With just about anything you want to become better at, start by doing more of it.