Cranking it out: On Being Prolific

I’d like to write down one of those unwritten rules: Better Prolific than Good.

It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, or if you know what you’re talking about. The public at large would rather see 10 mediocre works of art than 1 superlative opus. This applies to books, movies, software, furniture, or any other human endeavour. It doesn’t matter how good it is. Society is more likely to encourage you if you just keep cranking it out.

This applies to the highest levels of business and achievement. Electronic Arts got big because it could produce a Madden game every year for the past 20 years. Apple has a yearly product cycle. If you don’t like the current model, just wait until next year. Even perennial products like Coca-Cola have to keep producing ads to keep their product in touch with people.

Even if you are bad at what you are trying to do, being prolific is a win-win proposition. The more you produce, the more you’ll be able to look back on your prose or code and think, here’s where I can improve, here’s where I can work on my game. It becomes a process called “Deliberate Practice”. I’m reading all about it in Talent is Over-rated by Geoff Colvin. If it’s mentally demanding, repeatable, provides constant feedback, and not necessarily fun, it’s kind of practice that’ll take you from struggling to world class.

A lot of people say that we lose our capacity to be prolific in grade school. It’s where we develop our fear of failure. I disagree. That damage is done at the post-secondary level, where your entire grade is based on 4 papers and an exam. That’s 4 opportunities for feedback before you are judged for all time. If you fail, it’s another grand to retake the course. In grade school, the feedback is constant. Teachers work every day to find new activities to develop student understanding. There are many opportunities to mess up an assignment, but there are just as many opportunities to improve.

I have yet to find a K-12 teacher who wouldn’t give their eye-teeth for a class full of students who try to find new ways to learn the material. Meanwhile, as an adult I’ve been scolded for not taking a professor’s perspective on Ginsberg. Take a look at the Clayburn Middle Youtube channel. Almost all the videos have been shot and edited by students. If Clayburn has any problems, I can guarantee you those kids behind the cameras aren’t part of it.

As adults, we think we’ve figured it all out. We don’t think we have to go through the embarrassment of learning anything new. However, the world’s changing so fast that we have to learn new things no matter what we do. It’s best to get comfortable in that situation. The only way to do that is to be prolific.