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Swinging between quality and quantity

Swinging between quality and quantity

Quality and quantity. What to focus on?

I ask myself this too, every now and then. To be honest I don’t feel particularly perfectionist. I don’t care if there are some little flaws.

Is the answer quantity, then?

One of my goals lately is to learn to write. In practice, it means increasing the quality of the articles I publish.

Oh, so the answer is quality, right?


The debate

As every well-mannered 21st-century kid does, when I’m in doubt I search on the internet. If I want to learn to write I look for information on how to write better. I found loads of advice. Some, conflicting with each other, revolve around the magical dispute between quality and quantity. Dispute that extends well beyond the field of writing. Let’s say it affects every path to develop any kind of expertise.

Some say you must do quality. You need to publish only the best of the best. When you publish an article on a topic it has to be the best article on the topic. Some say you must do quantity. Write write write. Publish and get back to writing. You’ll never get to quality otherwise.

Over time I found myself agreeing with both opinions. Am I schizophrenic? Maybe, but that’s not the point. It’s just that I still suffer from authority bias and when I see someone that seems competent I feel like agreeing with them.

At school, we got used to quality, in a way. You have to get a good grade. If you don’t get a good grade you’re tarnished, it ruins your average, your parents get angry and they cut your allowance. Quality is left to the student’s willingness of practicing at home. Which assumes the student knows how to practice (yeah, right). In short, you’re left with this idea that what matters is quality.

Still remaining in the education realm there’s also this story that, I swear, you’ll find everywhere. I don’t even remember where I first read it. Perhaps in a book. I started looking for my original source but then said to myself: why bother? who cares? you can find it everywhere anyway.

The story goes something like this:

There’s a ceramics class. One of those where they teach you how to make pots. You sit down, there’s the spinning thingy, and then Ghost’s theme song starts.

At the beginning of said class, the teacher decides to split students in two. Not that he slaughters people cutting them in half. He creates two groups. He tells the students in the first group that they’ll be graded based on the quality of the single pot they’ll produce. Goal: best pot ever. To the students in the second group, he tells that they’ll be graded based on quantity, instead. They can bring how many pots they want and the grade will depend on the weight. Goal: producing non-stop, yoohoo.

The end of the class comes and grading time with it. The best products are all in the “quantity group”. Shock.

Quantity led to quality.

In between

As in many things (all?) there’s a bit of truth here but also there. Affirming with absolute certainty “you need to do X” or “you need to do Y” means presenting a perspective that is partial at best. We rather have to understand what are the specific cases and goals.

If you are someone who is already at a good level of skill and your goal is to project this image, the advice of focusing on quality probably makes sense. Instead of rapidly firing 3 so and so articles, you spend your energy making a superduperawesome one that attracts countless people and you get famous rich and everyone wants to hug you (after covid).

If, on the other hand, you are on the path of learning, like the novices in the pottery class or me with writing, it makes more sense to aim for quantity, especially when combined with deliberate practice.

When we reason about our situation, and I’ll say something obvious, we also have to pay attention to the boundaries of experience. Let’s say you’re a phenomenal volley player. Your plays are perfect. Highest quality. This doesn’t mean, however, that if you started a blog about volley the best thing to do would be to focus on quality. It’s one thing to know how to play and another to know how to write about it.

Finally, let’s not forget that quality and mediocrity are not binary states. There’s no switch, nor a clear dividing line. They are points on a spectrum. Winning strategy: do what you can to move towards quality. And more practice means more opportunities to make mistakes, learn, and improve.

Then, in any case, not all the shit you produce has to go public, but you produce it as an exercise at least. For my part, I usually publish the shit I make, who cares. If you don’t like it you don’t read it and that’s it. We can be friends anyway.

With this article of introspective and pseudo-cathartic reflection, I got and decided that I have to aim for quantity. What can I say, expect more poop.