Thursday, September 07, 2006

Thoughts on Quality 3: 7 Steps to Creating Quality

How can you create something of quality and value?

It probably first helps to solidify the definitions of these two words. For the moment, we can work with their vague, canonical definitions: quality is somehow "good", value is somehow "good". Quality and value imply "worth", and an item with worth should be kept or acquired, rather than discarded.

If you are creating a story or a game, worth depends on what you want from the creation. If you want to make copies to sell, then worth has to do with its projected popularity, or at least the appreciation of whatever segment you want to impress. If, however, you create to bring something of worth into the world, then worth depends on satisfying somebody, either now or in the future. That somebody may be you or that one interested researcher several generations from now.

Steps for creating something worthy:

1. Be blessed with a worthy brain.

You need a brain where seeds of creativity are capable of taking root. Not everyone has the same capacity to expand their vision around every subject, but most people have the capacity to be creative around some subjects. You may need to identify those subjects where your creativity can work. You should still occasionally study other subjects in order to help your brain expand into those areas.

2. Prepare your brain so that worth can flourish.

All ideas, thoughts, inspirations, inventions, and so on appear in your brain seemingly at random. The very subject of this article, the very words of this sentence, simply come to me. Why to me, and not to others?

The primary reason why worth comes to some people is that the groundwork is laid. Ideas come as a result of triggers in thought patterns. The more diverse the thought patterns, the more ideas you've been exposed to, the more relationship possibilities that can exist and appear.

If you never learn about the sky, the stars, the moon, or anything in outer space, you will never come up with an idea about how things in outer space interact. You may come up with an idea about outer space, but you will be re-treading ground that already exists. In the rarest of circumstances, you may come up with a wholly new idea about outer space, and in the rarest of rare circumstances, you may even be more correct about it then everyone else because you have not been hampered by "group think". But that is pretty atypical.

For those who don't know, group think is the phenomenon of a group of people being unable to break a pattern because all the members within the group don't see other possibilities outside of that pattern. It is what causes one group of players to not like a game that the rest of the world likes. For instance, they may always begin the game by doing a certain action because it seems like the most natural thing to do. After doing this action, the game may then not play well. At the same time, all other groups don't start the game this way and the game plays well for them. The members of the group never think about starting the game differently, so they never get to a stage where the game plays well.

All the more so do each of our own brains work within a very narrow "group think", or "self think". Without exposing yourself to a range of ideas, topics, and disciplines beyond your own devising, your brain is not being cross-pollinated fruitfully. Even running an idea past one other person gives you a whole new perspective on the idea.

That means listening without defensiveness, being receptive to new ideas, and challenging your own worldview on a regular basis. This is not something that everyone can do.

With a head full of ideas and an open and active imagination, new ideas begin to grow like shoots in a garden.(*)

3. Work, rework, and prune your ideas.

Anything can flourish in your brain, but not every idea is a worthy one. You must learn to recognize those that are worthwhile from those that aren't. How? The ones that themselves lead to new and other ideas, and that have strong roots - i.e. a solid foundation - are worthy of attention. Ideas that are unprovable or untestable generally aren't.

The sentences that I'm writing come out from my brain, and I don't know why the words I first write come out the way that they do. But that doesn't mean that I simply dump them onto the screen and then hit "Publish". Some thoughts I think through. Others I write, and then let sit. Then I come back to them and see if they still seen solid. Still others I may write down and then later delete, because they don't seem to hold up over time.

That is the way we winnow through weeds of thought in order to make room for worthwhile ideas to grow.

4. Challenge your ideas

In game parlance, we call this playtesting. We are often thrilled with our own ideas, but often they don't stand up to testing from a fresh perspective. Or, the ideas may simply not be original, but we didn't realize it.

You have to get your ideas out there and get them attacked from all directions. For writing, you have to start reading other material on the subject, including those that disagree with your point of view, and take them seriously.

5. Let ideas stand over time.

Ideas should be able to stand the test of time. If you come back to something after a day, or a month, it should still thrill you. This doesn't guarantee that something is worthwhile, but it can show you when something is not. Note that this step will generally not work unless the previous step has also happened.

6. Polish.

Never let your ideas molder. Always try to rewrite or rework. A solid way to polish an idea is to continue to the next idea using the first one as a basis. Then come back to the original idea. Does it still seem like something worthwhile?

Polish refers to dotting i's and crossing t's. While neat presentation and thoroughness is not the meat of the idea, it is very important to a finished work. Not only does it attract interest, it also allows you to review the material and turn it from rough format to presentable material.

7. Publish.

My old boss used to say that "the enemy of a good idea is a great idea". In truth, there is no end to fixing, reworking, and rewriting. At some point, when you have something good, you just have to get it out. Waiting until it is perfect is just a way of not getting it out, at all.


(*) One point which I forgot: Don't miss the opportunity. So many times we get ideas and think "it will never work" or don't think about them at all. We may simply just forget to write them down. When an idea begins to sprout, give it some attention before it gets lost.
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