Quantity versus Quality: Which One to Choose?

Quantity versus quality; an everlasting trade-off. The “system” in which this tradeoff is most prevalent is our economic system. You are more or less forced to specialize yourself because no-one wants a mediocre plumber who also happens to be a mediocre tennis coach, blogger and husband. No; we want the best plumber; the best tennis coach and the best blogger. But what if you want to do it all? What if you want to be a plumber, tennis coach etc…..What then? Then you have to make a decision; you want to do it all “a little” or you want to do one thing “good”. But is this a fair dichotomy? Is it really true that when you are engaged in more than one hobby, profession or relationship, you cannot be good in a particular “instance” of these “categories”? Can’t there be a sense of complementarity? A sense of “1 + 1 = 3”? Maybe…let’s take a look at why this could be the case.

What if being a plumber, philosopher and husband would make you better in each one of these “fields”; that is, better in each one of these fields than you would be if you wouldn’t be involved in these three activities “at the same time”? Could that be so? Well, for the philosopher and husband it might be rather easy to see the “benefits” of also being a plumber: it will make you more social, it will give you an idea of “how a day in the life of an ordinary man” would look like and it could make you more respectful towards others fulfilling likewise jobs. But what about the plumber? Would he be better of by being a philosopher as well? Well that “depends” – although I hate this word – on how you define “plumber”. Is “plumber” merely the profession of the man, or is the “plumber” the man itself? If it were the latter, it should be clear why the plumber would benefit from studying philosophy: it would (very likely) make him a more “reasonable” person; more respectful towards the ideas of others. But regarding the former; would he also become better at doing his plumbing job? Well, it doesn’t make him any worse at doing it, right? But that’s not a fair response. However, the real question should be: would he have become a better plumber by “more plumbing” or instead of reading Plato? Well, maybe at first he will be “better off” plumbing more; that is, until the “marginal utility” in “plumbing more” would become less than the “marginal utility” of reading philosophy; which is something that – given “the law of diminishing marginal utility” – will inevitably happen.

But this example of “the plumber” can also be applied to other matters in life; after all, it doesn’t make sense to keep on focusing on one specific area if there are still so many other areas to discover while knowing that gaining in these other areas is easier – see the “learning curve” – than gaining in only one area. Thus, in order to become a person with a high “overall utility” – which is the utility indicating “how good of a person you are” – you have to expand your “intellectual” – and other – horizons.

The “fun” thing is that this logic of “learning curves” and “diminishing marginal utilities” can be applied to pretty much every activity in life. An example? Well, I could have decided – as I did when I started this blog – to write one “very decent” article per day. However, I felt I could contribute more “utility” by “tapping into my creative source” and just let it flow out of me, like diarrhea from a sick person. And if that means that the articles would become a little shorter; who cares?

So; quantity or quality? Which one to pick?

Written by Rob Graumans

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