Peter Sim’s book “Little Bets” makes this point, as does author Franz Johannsohn of “The Click Moment”: in order to be more successful, it is better to make “little bets”, or commit to smaller and many more projects, rather than put all your creative eggs in larger, fewer baskets. In entrepreneurial circles this idea is also known as making the smallest viable product and putting it out there as quickly as possible.
The obvious extension of this point is also that you are more likely to succeed if you increase the quantity of your creative endeavors. As Smashwords founder Mark Coker puts it, those authors who have more books published by their platform, sell more books. Bloggers know this too, the more posts you have, the more likely you are to increase traffic to your site.
If this is so obvious why doesn’t everyone do it? Well in some ways this is a common strategy, but it’s also a common problem - how do I increase my productivity without impacting my quality?
In some ways, certain products like apps can be revised - so you can create an app, and based on user feedback, update and improve it. This can be a better strategy than simply tinkering away in isolation on features that users may not value as much, and wasting time and effort. The same applies to blog posts - if you write a post that didn’t quite hit the mark, you can try again tomorrow.
With books, or music records, or movies, the same principle doesn’t apply. Once the product is out there, you can't change it, not without considerable expense, and even then, it may be too late. The reviews are already out there. In that case, it makes sense to spend as much time as possible carefully perfecting the product, doesn’t it? Don’t we always hear of an award-winning author releasing his much anticipated third or fourth book, after a gap of eight or nine years?
The problem here then is how to reconcile the two objectives - the need to increase quantity and the desire to maintain quality. Many creative professionals appear to have mastered this dilemma, those who publish a book a year, or one best-selling record after another. At last night’s Golden Globe Awards, acclaimed director Woody Allen was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Till date, according to IMDB, he has written 71 films and directed 47. Whatever else you may think about him, that is amazingly prolific. And he was won and been nominated for numerous awards, which suggest that many of his films are outstanding.
Here’s the thing: I suspect some of them are also really terrible. And perhaps that’s the secret to his success, or that of other prolific, creative individuals. You have to be willing to make some really bad art in order to be able to create some truly spectacular stuff. Agatha Christie, one of my favorite authors, wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections. Some of those novels were truly brilliant, but many others were merely a good read, and some quite disappointing (I have read almost all her novels, many of them several times). Perhaps it’s not always possible to predict the quality of a book or movie or painting in advance - it is only when it is completed that it’s possible to judge it.
As a writer and perfectionist myself, I am not as prolific as I would like to be, mainly because the issue of quality pulls at me. What if this is totally rubbish? Maybe I should let it marinade, and come back to it. I imagine that either prolific artists don’t have these sort of thoughts, or as is much more likely, they choose to ignore them, and doggedly complete the project at hand, and immediately start thinking of the next one. Perhaps they have much thicker skin, and are not as affected by negative criticism. Perhaps they know that they may not be able to control the outcome of their work, but they can certainly control their own effort, and hope that it is enough. This new year, I am resolved to aim for a little less perfection, a little more pragmatism, and hope that I learn habits that let me look back in the years to come at a body of work that more closely resembles that of Christie or Allen, if not in quality, at least in quantity.