Creative quantity leads to creative quality

It is close at hand to want to find that one revolutionary idea without having to be burdened by a number of mediocre or vile ideas. Unfortunately, it is very seldom it works that way.


All experience shows that there is a direct link between quantity and quality. The more ideas, the more good ideas. It’s a bit like Darwin’s evolution theory. The more ideas generated, the greater the statistical probability that someone is viable enough to survive.

You can also consider the ideas as seeds. The more seeds you sow, the greater the likelihood that you will ripe a good harvest. If an idea of ​​ten is worth moving forward with, then it goes without saying that you get a richer material to work with if you have 100 ideas than 20.

Of course, the backside of this coin is that the one who starts with 100 ideas will have to throw 90 of them in the trash bin to move on with the ten good ones, while the one with 20 original ideas only needs to throw out 18. For companies, ten ideas are not enough not even 100. A study has shown that a company needs to generate on average 3,000 raw ideas to find a single one that can eventually become a commercial success.

A review of more than 2,000 scientists throughout history shows that the most successful not only produced the most high-quality work, but also the most worthless. Japanese inventor Yoshiro Nakamatsu, who claims to have the world record in inventing more than 4,000 patents, has a large number of inventions to his name that are more odd and bizarre than useful. Among other things, he has patent on eye glasses shaped like eyes so that wearing glasses would be less noticeable.

But this statistical explanation is not the whole truth. Creating many ideas is a learning process and with all learning we become better and better the more we practice. The ones having a fluency of coming up with many ideas, therefore have not only a larger number of ideas but usually also a higher proportion of ideas with high creative value compared to those who only manage to squeeze out a few ideas.

Charles Darwin wrote not only his own mastodon title On the origin of species (almost 500 pages) but also 119 other books and scientific articles. Thomas Edison registered 1,093 different patents. Albert Einstein published not only his special and general relativity theories, but more than 240 other scientific articles, Sigmund Freund published over 330 psychiatry articles, William Shakespeare wrote 154 sonettes and 37 plays, Mozart wrote more than 600 pieces of music, of which 40 symphonies, Rembrandt left behind more than 650 paintings and over 2,000 drawings and Pablo Picasso more than 50,000 artistic pieces of work. The greatest genious of all, Leonardo da Vinci, produced more sketches, drawings and draft ideas than anyone could count. Common to them all was that they were idea shot guns that gradually became better and better at what they did.

The book Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking describes how a ceramic teacher divided her class into two groups. One half would be rated only by the number of pots produced. The other half should make one pot only, but it would be completely judged by its quality. When the grading day came, it turned out that all the pots that showed the highest quality came from the group that would be judged by quantity only. During the semester, these students had allowed themselves to have fun, experimented and learned from their mistakes, while the other half had theorized over the perfect pot and did not dare to take any risks.

The fact that quantity gives rise to quality is also not so strange if one considers that the first ideas of a given problem is probably the most obvious and thus least creative. It is only when you have drilled down deep enough in the idea generation that you can expect to arrive at the seemingly mad and crazy ideas that can ultimately lead to something new.

For musicians and artists, it is often the case that they create their very best works in periods of high productivity. This will be some time into their careers, when they have built up a sufficient skill to easier get into the flow.

Tip: If you really want to nurture your creativity, give yourself a challenge. Decide for example to every day hatch five new ideas in different areas. It doesn’t matter what the ideas are. The important thing is that this habit gives you a good workout to get a flow of ideas while you in the mass of new ideas may find some real golden nuggest. Also embrace the crazy, completely useless ideas. They often give impulses to the really good ones. Sometimes you have to kiss many frogs before you find the prince.

Illustration: – nattanan23

svensk_flagga   Detta blogginlägg på svenska

Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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