Quantity v. Quality

Quantity v. Quality

May 24, 2019

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On the first day of class, a Florida professor decided to try an experiment.

He decided to divide up his photography class into two groups.

The students on the left side of his room would be in the Quantity group.

He explained that those students would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. When the grading period was over, he would count the number of photos each student produced. If a student submitted at least one hundred photos, he/she would get an A. If a student submitted ninety photos, he/she would receive a B. Eighty photos would get a C, and so on.

At the same time, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the Quality group. These students would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only produce one photo at the end of the semester, but it would have to be a nearly perfect image to get an A.

I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

But I couldn’t.

At the end of the term, the professor was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the Quantity group.*

All along in life, we’re preached to worship quality over quantity.

Don’t just slop things up there. 

Don’t rush to finish.

Take your time. 

Measure twice, cut once. 

But that’s not what happened in this photography class.

The students who didn’t care about quality spent the whole semester “taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the dark room, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills.”

Whoa. How backwards is that?

To get the highest quality, they needed to do the highest quantity.

To get the best work, they needed to make a point of not trying to do their best work.

And what happened to the Quality group?

That group “sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.”

Perfectionism equals crappy. Striving to be perfect isn’t the path to excellence.

It’s the path to a frustrating dead end.

So if we want to be a world-class tennis player, we need to play a ton of tournaments, no matter what the results are.

If we want to be a comedian, we need to write a few jokes every day, even if they’re not funny.

If we want to be a teacher, we need to give lessons to everyone, even if they’re not the best prospects.

It turns out Nike was right.

To be the best, we don’t need to worry ourselves sick about how good we need to be.

We just need a busload of reps.

We just need to do it.


*-The story and the quotes came from Chapter 11 of James Clear’s excellent book, Atomic Habits.

My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.