Fewer Better October 2019

I’m coming to realize that everything is a series of trade off decisions made whether you recognize them or not but which ultimately lead to the natural conclusion of something. For example, you can do more things, but that often impacts quality (ie. more things, worse). I’ve also realized that most people actually take that path, doing more things of lower quality. I think some people perceive that as both efficient and effective, doing something good enough. As time goes on, I feel that doing fewer things better is comparatively rare. People tend to notice it when it happens though because doing something well is the exception rather than the rule.

The most recent applications I can think of are in my own life as a parent and founder. In the business, it becomes clear that the more features we add, the more complex the system becomes. That makes it harder to maintain and makes the surface area for potential issues much larger. If we do less things, we can spend more time on each feature, generally resulting in higher quality software. Likewise as a parent, it occurs to me that we could have a lot of kids and provide them with a vague sense of direction in the limited face time we get together, or have fewer kids but invest more effort into each providing significant one on one time.

School is a good analogy for the parenting problem. It seems like the key issue impacting the quality of the learning is ratios. More wisdom spread across fewer subjects means higher impact. Likewise with quality, mass production and quality are antithetical. Some problems are solved with scale, while others are created through scale. The argument here is not necessarily to avoid doing something significant, it’s to avoid trying to do too many significant things at once. I’m still wrestling with whether it’s better to do things fast and compromise quality, or do things more slowly but not compromise quality. That seems more situational, where as the trade offs to doing a few things well seem to mostly outweigh the trade offs of doing lots of things less well.