The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn't necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. ... "Quality," [the psychologist Dean] Simonton writes is "a probabilistic function of quantity."
Read the full article in the May 16th issue of the New Yorker. (It appears Malcolm Gladwell puts his New Yorker articles on his website eventually, but this article is somewhat recent and doesn't appear yet.)
I'm not sure I entirely agree with Dean Simonton. When I was in graduate school, I discussed ideas with a fellow student. I found ideas easy, not all of them panned out, but I had to prune my ideas to find something that would work. He felt that he'd come up with three ideas the entire time he was in graduate school and he made each one of those three ideas count. In the end, I think quantity can lead to quality, but I don't think it's the only way.
As a whole, this is a fun read and I thought I would quote Malcolm's comparisons of Engelbert to the Soviet Union, Xerox to America, and Apple to Israel, but that ended up not being my favorite quote in the article. And, it's got the additional pleasure of an anecdote of creating a "wireless" network by flashing red lasers through the fog over the Foothill Expressway.
Do you believe in quality or quantity or both?