Recently I heard one of my favorite YouTubers talk about how in certain situations quantity trumps quality. This counterintuitive way of thinking intrigued me. All of our lives we were told that quality is more important than quantity. The truth is that both ways of thinking are true and useful, depending on the particular situation you are in. Or more exactly, depending on the goal you are trying to achieve and your particular stage of development.
In the beginning stages of developing something – a skill, a product, a project – generally it’s a good idea to prioritize quantity over quality, and then, after reaching a certain success level, gradually focus more on quality.
Here is a concrete example of when I would advocate for quality, and when I would prioritize quantity.
Quality over Quantity
Let’s say that you have been running a youtube channel for 5 years. You’ve accumulated 1 million subscribers and hundreds of millions of views. You are in the ‘advanced category’ of YouTubers – you are familiar with the drill and you know how to produce content with a high production value that gets a lot of hits and likes. Chances are that you’ve done most things right. You’ve created certain value that constantly draws new viewers to your channel, and that encourages them to share your videos with their friends.
At this stage of growth, you might ask yourself whether you want to focus on quantity or quality going forward. You might say both and may want to try to increase the number of videos you publish per week while at the same time increase the quality. Some people succeed in doing so, but it is extremely difficult and subject to certain conditions. One of my favorite YouTubers grew extremely fast, from around 250k subscribers to 1 million in only about 2 years. While I am in awe of her accomplishment, I am also slightly disappointed about the quality of her video content nowadays, and end up not watching them as often. While at the beginning of her youtube career her material was denser and seemed well thought through, I feel that now the videos contain a lot of ‘air’. This happens with many YouTubers, and while they think that their followers don’t notice it, they do.
For the sake of the argument, let’s look at the extremes. Let’s say that you prioritize quantity over quality. You put up 7 videos per week instead of 3 per week, and in your effort to increase the output, you let the quality drop. You get more views initially, but then you realize that in the long run, the increase in views is not likely to compensate for the loss in viewers resulting from the lack of quality. You might then change your strategy to produce 4 instead of 7 videos per week, but keep the same quality or even increase it, and then happily find that your view numbers have gone up. This is a case where it makes sense to prioritize quality. You’ve already reached a level ‘8’ on a scale of 1 to 10, so why would you ever want to drop your quality, lose a bunch of your most loyal customers, just so you can produce more?
Quantity over Quality
Now, what if you have just started to build a youtube channel? Should quality be your priority? Of course, it makes sense to set a minimum level of quality for your videos, even though it’s likely that only a few people will see these. Think of the effect it will have on yourself even before considering your viewers. How motivated will you be if you think that your videos are absolute trash? On the other hand, do these first videos need to be as good in every sense as those videos produced by YouTubers who are supported by a professional production team? No. There is a reasonable standard that you should hold yourself to at each level of your development. It should be high enough that you feel motivated to continue and improve, but not that high that it will impede your progress.
In the very beginning phase of developing something, trial and error are key. And the more units of something you produce or complete, may it be videos, blog posts, training sessions, the faster the quality will increase. If you believe that you are a bad writer, your tendency to obsess over every little detail will hinder your progress. You always find something to improve and change and never find closure, and in the end, you may only produce a single blog post in 5 months. Then another one in 3 months. After a year you look at your track record and find that you’ve written 2 nearly perfect blog posts. However, due to the lack of quantity, you didn’t accumulate sufficient experience and didn’t give yourself enough chances to make mistakes. Or, you’ve made one youtube video and allowed the production of it to stretch across an impossibly long time frame. Being the perfectionist you are, you re-recorded several sections twenty times. You had finished editing the video, but just when you were about to put it up you felt that it was really bad. You put it aside for 2 months and then continued to edit again. Finally, after 6 months you published your first video. It turned out pretty good. But imagine what you could’ve come up with had you produced 10 videos during that same time? It would’ve been a bit messy in the beginning, and perhaps you would’ve published some crappy material – or is that just what we always tell ourselves to give us the excuse to bail out of something? – but you might’ve progressed much faster.
You could’ve learned and improved much faster if you had allowed yourself to make more mistakes in the beginning.
As a beginner in anything, or being in the beginning stages of developing something, focussing on quantity and making micro improvements with every try, will help you achieve better quality, faster. Continuous tiny improvements can accumulate so fast that it can make your head spin and make you wonder how fast you progressed. This, in turn, can make you so motivated that you kick it into a higher gear. Progress is so addictive.
This example can be applied to countless other areas. If you are a cook, it would mean to cook an unbelievable amount of ill-shaped egg benedicts in the beginning, trusting that repetition will result in higher quality. But once you are a Michelin chef who makes a perfect soufflé, never let the quality drop for the sake of serving more customers.
So, what stage in your particular project or endeavor are you at the moment, and what will you focus on in the next months?