Productivity Hack: Quantity Yields Quality

Photographers know that you have to take dozens or hundreds of shots to get one truly great photo. This photo comes from a recent trip to the island of Mallorca in Spain

I have said that it is a boon to productivity to be too busy but did not address one key aspect: why?


One of the biggest reasons is also the most simple: if you produce too much, you can cherry-pick the quality items. In photography, for example, you have to take lots and lots of photos to get the one great shot you have been looking for. Of course it goes further than that, so here are some examples from assorted walks of life to illustrate the point.







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One of my favorite quotations ever is from Mark Twain and the end of a letter he had written:


I would have written a shorter letter but I did not have enough time.


In other words, writing quality content (for a blog, book, or anything else) is best accomplished by writing lots of content and then choosing the good pieces. It is almost as if we need to discover what we want to say ourselves, exploring our ideas in the very act of committing them to paper. I am sure that the better a writer is more capable he is of consistently producing content, but even she must write a large amount of content to keep the ideas flowing.


When I first started this blog, I was afraid I would not have enough to write about. That has not ended up being the case. It seems that each time I write something, instead of having one less thing to write about in the future, I instead come up with two new ideas. It is counter-intuitive, but what ends up happening is that by publishing new content it gets me thinking about related topics and causes me to have more to say. I keep a list of ideas I want to write about on this blog, and it has been growing – not shrinking.




Software Development


Part of the reason programmers get better at a given platform is that they come to learn the associated tools better. Another reason is that they actually develop their own tools on top of these tools.


By the time I had been coding for the iPhone for 2 years, you can imagine what a library of tools I had at my disposal. It is for this precise reason that I actually charge my clients less money to develop on a platform I want to learn better. I have no intention of being stuck in iPhone development if Android (or, even, non-mobile specific platforms) become the preferred norm.


I get involved in new projects at every turn. Sometimes I am working on as many as a half dozen different software projects simultaneously. This means I am constantly learning new skills and developing new ideas that have the opportunity to be successful.


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Many successful entrepreneurs have gone bankrupt at least once in their lives, and it is no coincidence. They took a shot – many shots – and failed. This is not an excuse for incompetence but rather a rally to earn competence. Trying and failing, as long as you learn from it, is the best way to eventually succeed. Doing something is truly the only way you can learn how something is done.


The best MBA program or the most elite group of VCs will not guarantee success. These things exist in a hypothetical never-world. As the famous quotation says:


No plan ever survives first contact with the enemy


Experience is, for entrepreneurs and commanders alike, the biggest difference-maker. Earn it through trying (and perhaps failing) and trying again.






Where does quantity play a product in your life or profession? Let me know below!


  • David the Philomath

    Hey, this is an interesting article, however I have to disagree with you. It’s nice to think that “quantity yields quality” but there’s a reason the common expression is “quality over quantity”

    Digital cameras have made it easy for people to take a bunch of photos. The technology is great, however, it sadly means that many people don’t think before they take photo. I attended film school and the amount of film we were allowed to use for projects was limited. This forced us to think about the choices we made, and as a result learnt a whole lot more.

    Secondly, I believe what Mark Twain is actually saying is that it takes longer to craft shorter prose while preserving a message – In line with George Orwell’s advice on writing.

    • Zane the Experimenter

      Interesting points, David. With Regards to Mr. Twain, I agree about his message, but I believe what he was expressing was that a writer must first write a lot, and then trim it down in order to accomplish the short and refined prose you speak of. So the goal, as with Orwell, is still the same – but in order to accomplish it you must first write a lot… otherwise, why did he not just directly write the perfectly refined prose in his letter? He was saying that it would have required more time to then refine the letter he had written, so you need the quantity first before it can be trimmed into quality.

      The same goes with your photography example. Even in your class, where the amount of film was limited, you needed to take many photos before you could become an expert – no?
      In many fields, experts are defined by the amount of time they have spent an their craft. The experts are those who have tried a lot and failed a lot, and therefore become good. There is such thing as natural talent, but for most it is earned through trial and error.

  • rohit


    i too accept with your opinion that you should write a lot and further trim it down, eventually one will get better at it. When am writing my project proposals and reports this is often the case but didn’t really observe this, now that u said it reinforced by thought .. 


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