Existential Psychology

More Time Does Not Mean Higher Quality

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A cognitive bias most of share is that if it takes a long time to create then its quality must be high and if it takes a short time to create then its quality must be low. This is actually a pretty good rule of thumb in many cases since as creatures bounded by time and by our own physical limitations there’s only so much we can get done in the blocks of space we like to call seconds, minutes, hours, etc. At least theoretically more blocks of space mean the ample opportunity to get a particular project completed up to the required specifications.

But the time-quality bias can catastrophically break down for a few reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that length of time in and of itself means nothing, what matters is what happens during that length of time. Taking lots of blocks of space to complete a project might just as easily be attributed to laziness or stupidity. Taking just a few blocks of space to complete a project might just as easily be attributed to skill and experience.

The second and for us even more compelling reason is that in our phenomenological experience of thinking about and writing about psychology the best ideas don’t develop in a long, drawn out, laborious process but arrive like lightning bolts. They come fast and easy, one moment they’re not there and the next moment they are. Therefore we actually often find an inverse relationship between time and quality where past a certain point of laboring over a piece the quality goes down not up and this piece needs to get tossed into the graveyard. The central guiding idea isn’t all that great to begin with, no matter how much time we spend polishing it up. Why? Because it didn’t come in a flash.

At any rate, regardless of whether a project takes a very short time or a very long time to create that project should be judged on its own merit not on the blocks of space required to bring it into existence. This might sound like heresy to Westerners obsessed with the idea that time is money, that everything has a price and most of the price tag should be a function of the cost of materials and the amount of labor but eventually, with anything that really matters, with anything that has staying power, nobody cares about any of that. Nobody listens to their favorite song or looks at their favorite painting and thinks “I wonder how much time this took to make? If I find out it wasn’t very much I’m done with it.”