The Bobby Rock Newsletter #72 (8-20-22) - The Quality vs. Quantity Dilemma
The Bobby Rock Newsletter #72 (8-20-22) - The Quality vs. Quantity Dilemma
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Hey Everyone -
Welcome back and thanks again for joining me here. Happy to be out on the road this weekend, cranking out another Newsletter, and contemplating important things… before I go to a show tonight and beat the shit out of some drums! Let’s jump right in…
In This Issue:
- In This Moment: Here in the great state of Idaho, engaging various show-day rituals, and contemplating the perils of perfectionism...
- Go For Quantity to Get Quality? This counterintuitive idea is definitely something to think on…
- 50 Pounds of Pottery: a real-life parable for today’s musings…
Tonight’s show: For as much as I rave about how I love to play arenas, tonight we get Stoney’s Road House… which, I’ll tell ya right now, sight unseen, gets a huge “Fuck Yes!” from me. Man, I love to play these kinds of places, as well. Hope to see some of you there!
In This Moment: Boise, Idaho
It’s another Saturday morning, and I find myself on the road in yet another hotel room, drinking some Dirt, and trying to finish up this very Newsletter. From there, I will hit some weights or go for a run (TBD), hit the practice pad for a bit, then head over to the venue for soundcheck. Life is grand... and I mean that!
Today’s theme? Dealing with the double-edged sword of perfectionism. Yes, we all want to do great things in the world, and we want all of our creations to be as good as they can be… which is why we can often find ourselves immersed in that infinite continuum of time "in process." And yet, if we want our creations to actually be out in the world, we must arrive at some point of completion so they can be. This is seldom an easy point at which to arrive… hence, so many of us with our yet-to-be-completed projects!
As of late—and I’m mentioning this publicly for the first time right here—much of my “time in process” has been directed toward a product line expansion for my Dragon Dirt superfoods brand. If you look at the above pic, you might notice these magical green pills in the background:
Yes, friends, it looks like the first new product out of the gate will be a superfood capsule that essentially amplifies and elongates—throughout the day—many of the highly-potent, micronutrient attributes found in the Dirt! I’ve been using these kinds of “booster” capsule ingredients in various forms for many years, and I feel like the time is right to create what I feel is the “ultimate” version of such a product. So far? So good! I, along with a select group of road-testers, have been experiencing extraordinary things on both the mind and body fronts. Super-stoked!
And yet, I don’t want to get so wrapped up in the (joyous) process of meticulous formula research and diligent experimentation, that I forget to actually make these caps available… soon! Hence today’s issue.
Hope you guys enjoy the mind-food.
The Quantity vs. Quality Dilemma
We’ve all been there: we are out to create the perfect _________ (fill in the blank). For musicians, it might be about finally recording that “epic" song or laboring in rehearsals forever as you put together that “be all/end all” live show. For writers, it could be about eventually completing that “perfect” novel, screenplay, article, or even blog post. For entrepreneurs, it might involve finally launching that innovative new product or service idea you've had for a while.
For all of us, this kind of perfectionism usually hinges around something that’s important to us, with the idea being that, if we can just disappear into the basement long enough, and work hard enough, then eventually, we will emerge with the holy grail of whatever it is we are trying to create. In the meantime, we can live in that relatively blissful limbo of possibility, where there is no rejection, conflict, or failure: only the impending joy and redemption of the day we finally complete our masterpiece and, surely, the world will rejoice!
Regrettably, I have a number of projects that have fallen prey to this way of thinking.
In Adam Grant’s colossal book, Originals, he touches on this quandary in a compelling way, pointing out that many of our legendary creators were great because they were prolific, and not prolific because they were great. It is a counterintuitive take on something that many of us (with me at the top of that list) have, perhaps, gotten backwards.
Here’s a clip from the book:
It’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality. "Original thinkers," Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, "will come up with many ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends, and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas—especially novel ideas."
Grant goes on to write:
In every field, even the most eminent creators typically produce a large quantity of work that’s technically sound but considered unremarkable by experts and audiences. When the London Philharmonic Orchestra chose the 50 greatest pieces of classical music, the list included six pieces by Mozart, five by Beethoven, and three by Bach. To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand. In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a given five-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit.
Along these lines, think of how prolific our favorite recording artists were in the seventies. Most of these bands were creating those classic records at the rate of at least one-per-year, while also maintaining a full-time touring schedule. (I still can’t wrap my head around that one!) Now, were all those records masterpieces? Arguably no. But… you could not have had Rush’s 2112 (masterpiece!) without the poorly-received Caress of Steel just before it. And you could not have had Led Zeppelin’s monumental fourth release (another masterpiece!) without their creative (and less revered) departure of Led Zeppelin III. The point is, an artist’s greatest work is often the result of their navigation through their not-so-greatest work, and this requires one to step up to the plate and “ship” more often, as opposed to recoiling into hiding.
Note: Yes, of course, "recoiling into hiding" has also produced some great books, records, and films. But that’s not necessarily an argument for doing so as a general protocol. After all, we don’t know what might have happened had some of those infamous creators produced more frequently during those periods when they were terminally in production. That's an interesting contemplation in itself.
Which all leads us to...
50 LBS of Pottery
In the David Bayles and Ted Orland book Art and Fear, they tell the following story, which highlights this quality vs quantity conundrum beautifully:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on the quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pounds of pots rated an ‘A,’ forty pounds a ‘B,’ and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality,’ however, needed to produce only one pot—albeit a perfect one—to get an ‘A.’ Well, came grading and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes—the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
Isn’t that crazy? It’s the opposite of what many folks think is most important where the creative process is concerned.
Now, obviously, the takeaway here is not to just simply clutter the market with your “prolific” expressions of substandard work. The greater point, to me, is in the importance of creating and, to some degree, completing, enough “substandard work” so that all future efforts can be that much better. Keep in mind, for example, that many bands have had to write dozens of songs—some good, some not so good—to arrive at the dozen that wound up on the record. And many of those songs were taken all the way to full-demo completion, only to wind up on the proverbial “cutting room floor.”
On a final note here, I’ve always liked author Seth Godin’s take on this idea, as it applies to someone launching a new business or product.
I might have first heard Seth’s use of the term “ship” in his book, Linchpin, although I know it’s long been a part of his eloquent vernacular regarding all things creative and practical. To “ship" is simply to release something… to get the business, product, or service out into the world. And Seth often advises that you ship as soon as you can (while obviously doing your best to make it as good as you can), with the understanding that it is only in the release of the product or service that you can enter into that vital, co-creative dance that occurs between business and customer where, with their valuable feedback, you can continue to refine your offerings.
Obviously, this advice is mainly (seems to me) geared toward a new consumer product or service endeavor, but the wisdom is similar: you cannot keep your precious creation in the lab forever, thinking you will eventually perfect it, since it’s ultimate “perfection” can only happen in the final stages of tweaking—which will happen most effectively as a result of evaluating real-world feedback once it's been released into the world!
I’ve seen this play out in rehearsal halls through the years. A band will never figure out the optimal setlist for a show by running endless variations in rehearsal. Ain’t gonna happen. You need to actually get out there in the trenches and play… and there, you will find out soon enough which order actually works best.
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Speaking of which, time to sign off here and start thinking about tonight’s setlist at Stoney’s…
Thanks again, everybody. Connect next week!
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