By January 27, 2014

There Is No Better Indicator of Success Than Quantity

The best way to guarantee success in almost any pursuit is to be prolific. Not all successful people are prolific, but almost all prolific people–regardless of vocation–are successful.

When you take so many swings at the ball, it is hard to not eventually hit a home run.

Unbalanced rewards

Rewards are unfairly skewed towards the top.

I used to be addicted to playing poker tournaments online. I would spend countless hours in the evenings with multiple poker tables open, happily clicking away as I could hear the mechanical chk chk chk of the computerized dealer dealing me out hand after hand.


A typical breakdown of a poker tournament prize pool goes something like this:

  • 1st place = 25%
  • 2nd place = 15%
  • 3rd place = 10%
  • 4th and lower = remaining 50%

Half of all the money goes to the top 3 places. A quarter of it goes to 1st place.

In a poker tournament, you want to win first place.

This same kind of payout structure exists in many areas of life. You see it everywhere you look. 1st place gets the big bucks, the endorsement deals, and a unfair share of the glory. 2nd place and lower get much less.

As Ricky Bobby says, “If you ain't first you're last.”

Because so much of life is weighted to give those who end up on top a lion's share of the bounty, it makes much more sense to take a lot of big swings than it does to take a few little swings.

Keep swinging that bat as hard as you can, and even if you have your eyes closed, you are bound to eventually connect with the ball, and when you do you are going to knock it right out of the park.

Rarely when you find someone who is wildly successful, do you find them taking small carefully calculated conservative steps, instead you find them wildly flailing in every direction until success just walks right into one of their haymakers.

Some examples

One of the most famous examples of prolific people who produce amazing results is Thomas Edison. (By the way, if you don't know what prolific means, it basically means producing a lot.)

Thomas Edison had 1,093 US patents in his name. That means he basically invented a new thing every single day for the equivalent of 3 years. Imagine waking up every morning and filing a patent for 3 years–talk about being productive.

Here is another example. You've probably heard of the famous romance and fiction novelist Nora Roberts. Any guesses to how many books she has written?

She has written over 208 novels. Not blog posts, not eBooks–novels.

She doesn't use a ghostwriter. She doesn't have a research assistant. She does it all herself and she publishes about 5 complete novels a year. I can't even imagine writing that much.

Want to know how many blind swings Nora Roberts took before she knocked one out of the park?

Well, she got rejection letters for her first 6 books and got her first book published in 1981. From 1982 till 1984 she wrote 23 novels which were published and she didn't make the New York Times Best Seller List until 1991 when she had already produced close to 100 novels–that is a whole lot of swinging.

Now, every single novel she has published since 1999 has been a New York Times bestseller.

I want you to stop and think for a minute about how many authors or would-be-authors write one book or two books or even 10 books and give up. Think about it. If it took Nora Roberts almost a hundred tries to hit a home-run, why do so many people think they can do it in one?

I used to be lazy

I used to produce almost nothing. Weeks would go by and I would have no real tangible asset which I produced. During those times in my life, I wasn't a failure, but I wasn't going anywhere. I was just sort of floating in the pond.

But, one day something changed. I can't quite tell you what it was, but something lit a fire under my ass. I started being productive. I turned off the TV, put the XBox controller down and started producing instead of just consuming.

I went to work and I tried to see how many backlogs I could get done in a day. I got home and wrote blog posts and created Android apps. Everyday I was doing something. Everyday I was taking big swings and stepping into them–hard.

Then one day, crack–my bat connected with something.

I got a chance to do some developer training videos for Pluralsight.

I took a bunch more swings, producing courses as rapidly as I could. 3 years went by and somehow 54 courses manifested themselves out of nights and weekends of sitting in front of my computer recording. crack! crack! crack!

Base Hite

It started to become harder to miss the ball than it was to hit it.

Lazy me had become… prolific?

By the way, one of the first books that helped me become more productive was Getting Things Done by David Allen, I highly recommend reading this book if you've never read it before.

Also, if you are having trouble staying on task and actually producing the work you know you should be producing, read one of my all time favorite books, The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield. This book will kick your ass.

Quantity breeds quality

Many software developers focus on quality. And while quality is important, it can't be manufactured on its own. You can't force quality to appear. It takes practice; it takes quantity to produce quality.

If you want to become a better developer, write more code. Produce some applications. There has never been an easier time for a developer to publish their own application, whether it be a web application, mobile app or even a standalone desktop one.

If you want to write good code, you need to write a lot of it. No matter how hard you try, you aren't going to write better code by gritting your teeth and concentrating really hard. You've got to be actively producing code and solving problems if you want to produce better code and solve harder problems.

It’s not that quantity beats quality, so much as it breed quality.  The more you produce the better you become at producing.

Back to you

If you want to guarantee success, more than anything else, you need quantity. You can't just assume that your first try is going to be successful, you've got to assume it is going to take 5 tries or 10 tries or maybe even 100 tries to hit a big success.

Far too many people give up early and far too many people aren't willing to put in the hard work that is required to be prolific.

If you are having trouble hitting your stride it may be because you just haven't stuck with it long enough.

Your first application might not be a success. Your first attempt at solving a difficult problem may be a dismal failure. But, the question is, are you going to keep trying?

If you want to be successful, you have to learn how to produce. You've got to learn how to put a crank in your back and wind that thing up until you can't turn it any more.

Are you going to be the kind of person who takes a few halfhearted whiffs at the ball and gives up? Or are you going to be the kind of person that is there day after day, swinging that bat, knowing the outcome will come if you only are willing to put in the time?

Prolific people generate prolific results.

What is it that you could be doing, but you're not?

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About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."