Personal finance and minimalism gurus often use it to encourage sensible spending. Your grandmother’s probably said it to you on more than one occasion.
But what’s the exact definition of quality over quantity?
Check out this guide to discover the quality over quantity meaning, some examples of when it applies, and why it’s essential to keep in mind.
What Does “Quality Over Quantity” Mean?
“Quality” and “quantity.” These terms don’t exactly have opposing meanings, but in this context, they’re used to define contrasting values.
History of the Idiom
The phrase “quality over quantity” is a downright cliche these days. And it’s really no surprise since it’s been around for, well, a while.
It was coined by the Ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger and has been in use since sometime between 8 BC and 68 AD. He wrote the phrase in the Epistulae Morales ad Lucilium— or, in English, the Moral Epistles and Letters from a Stoic. This book of letters was written by the thinker in his retirement and published in about 65 AD.
Seneca wrote, “It is quality rather than quantity that matters.” Over the centuries, it was shortened to the snappier “quality over quantity.”
The Meaning Today
Today, the idiom’s meaning has changed little from Seneca’s original intention.
Essentially, choosing quality over quantity means you focus on possessing fewer things of a high(er) standard over having an increased number of items.
In other words, spend your money or time (your significant resources) on one or a few things that matter the most to you and disregard the rest.
The concept is usually applied to physical objects (like manufactured products), but it can also apply to experiential things like philosophies, ideas, and concepts.
As Japanese organizational maven Marie Kondo would say, keep only the things that “spark joy.”
Use in Different Fields
This term is applied in various industries and fields, from manufacturing to art.
For example, quality over quantity is one of the cornerstones of quality control (QC) in industrial manufacturing.
While production volumes can be high, almost no company willingly sacrifices quality to produce vast quantities of items.
They wouldn’t be able to sell inferior products or get too many returns and client or customer complaints to make it worthwhile.
The same goes, for, say, art production. An artist churning out many poorly painted canvases likely won’t be able to command the same prices as a creator producing fewer high-quality works. (Not to mention the element of scarcity at play here.)
Below, we go into detail with even more examples.
Quality, Not Quantity: Real-Life Examples
So now you have a pretty solid idea of what “quality over quantity” means. But why, you ask, does it matter #IRL? No matter which industry you work in or what hobbies and passions tickle your fancy, this idiom probably applies.
Quality control (GC) has been a part of product manufacturing since Medieval times.
Back then, European craftspeople—carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, and the like—formed guilds to ensure the items produced were uniform and adhered to specific standards.
GC really ramped up during the Industrial Revolution and is today an essential step in the mass production process.
In fact, it could be argued that without QC, we wouldn’t have mass production at all since there’s no way items can be produced at scale and in massive amounts without a quality-first focus.
Quality control ensures products continually improve and comply with local and international regulations. It also lowers risk for a company and keeps customers loyal.
Once, the number of businesses you owned or ran was a mark of success. Today, it’s a different story.
Consumers are more demanding than ever. They expect the products and services they invest in to work well and be tailored to their specific needs.
The only way to achieve this is to focus on business quality over quantity.
What does this mean in practice? Well, a lot of things. It could mean:
- Providing a smaller, more bespoke range of products or services
- Cultivating customer loyalty with fewer, higher-quality offerings
- Narrowing down a business’s focus to boost productivity
- Focusing on sustainability with smaller product lines, fewer endeavors, or leaner staffing
All of these practices adhere to the same principle: the less you have to manage, the better your products and services—and hence, your business—can become.
When it comes to quality over quantity examples, nowhere has the shift been quite so dramatic as in employment.
Once upon a time, a packed resume was the goal. The more you have in your CV, the greater your chance to impress prospective employees.
Showing you had a lot of work experience over a long period meant you were reliable and a hard worker.
Today, quality over quantity reigns supreme when it comes to job hunting. The advice is to create a short CV focused on outcomes rather than a comprehensive, multi-page listing of all your past positions.
This also plays out when choosing which positions to apply for. Employment coaches now advocate for researching and shortlisting the companies you want to work for and sending carefully tailored approaches.
This contrasts the standard approach of sending hundreds of template-style “black hole” online job applications.
This concept is referred to often in the personal finance world.
Everyone from Ramit Sethi to Suze Orman champions the idea that spending your money on fewer quality items over buying many things is sensible.
Buy why? Generally, it’s because quality items are better made, so they tend to last longer. Having a lot of something is just that—a lot. It doesn’t mean they will last a long time or be worth the money; they simply clutter up your home.
Sometimes, having a lot of something can mean you never even wear or use it!
Food is another excellent example. Buying less and higher-quality food may seem more expensive at the outset, but it may save you money in health-related expenses down the road.
While some very prolific artists make big bucks (here’s looking at you, Jackie Chan), those who focus on doing a lot of work over high-quality work tend to get relegated to the b-list. And that’s regardless of the type of art they make—painting, sculpture, film, writing, and more.
If you want to become really good at your craft, you need to spend time on practice. And yes, that does mean prioritizing quantity. However, you should only share your very best work with the public.
Putting a limited amount of excellent work up for sale is the best way to cultivate a loyal following.
There’s no arguing that data quantity matters for technology enterprises.
The most sophisticated AI systems we have today only function so well because of the enormous data sets they draw from. However, it could be (and is) argued that data quality (or DQ) matters more than the sheer volume of data.
A poor-quality data set leaves a program or organization open to all kinds of risk.
For example, if the customer contact database of a utility company isn’t updated regularly, they could lose money due to the inability to contact customers in the case of an outage or other emergency.
Likewise, incomplete or low-quality data can impair statistical analysis in various enterprises, be it in the non-profit, education, research, or private sector.
Benefits of Prioritizing Quality Over Quantity
We’ve touched on the benefits tangentially in the above section. But to clarify why quality is usually preferred over quantity, let’s dive a bit deeper into them here.
(We approach this section mainly from a personal, rather than a business, perspective.)
When focusing on quality, you carefully consider every purchase or acquisition decision.
Whether buying a new app for your phone or a new washing machine for your house, you take the time to research your options.
Search for model numbers, brands, and alternatives online. Read reviews. Compare prices across on and offline retailers. Consider both secondhand and new options.
Once you’ve settled on the item you want, you can be sure it’s not only suitable for you, but you’re getting the best option for your investment.
This means you’ll really care about that item once it’s in your possession. It will really mean something to you.
Quality is better than quantity because quality items generally last longer than their cheap, mass-produced counterparts.
Consider a hand-made rug. Experienced workers wove each thread by hand, taking days to complete a single carpet. Because of this, the rug is expensive, and the company only makes a few rugs each year.
But the high quality means this carpet’s destined to become an heirloom, handed down through generations.
This can even apply to less tangible things, like friendships. If you’ve put a lot of time into a relationship and they give you a lot back, the association is likely to last far longer than the one you had with someone you worked with over the summer.
Higher quality products and services last longer, or you get the most use out of them, so they’re more sustainable.
Sustainable materials also typically cost more than non-sustainable materials due to complicated harvesting or processing techniques.
Because they’re more expensive to produce, manufacturers tend to focus on creating the highest quality item possible for their investment.
You’re also less likely to simply throw a higher-quality item in the trash. Instead, you’ll try to fix it or give it away to someone who can. This means one less item in the landfill or incinerator.
When you invest in quality items, you save money.
This might not be apparent initially since quality items often have a higher up-front cost. But as we’ve highlighted above, quality items tend to last a lot longer than cheap products.
There are, of course, always exceptions to this rule. For example, some supermarket goods (like fresh produce or pre-packaged food) often goes on discount.
But as a general rule, the more you pay for something, the higher the quality and the better the durability.
Higher-priced or quality items are also more likely to have warranties, guarantees, and repair programs.
And because they’re more durable, you get to use them for much longer. The initial cost reduces over the years, making them cheaper or the same price as the more affordable alternative.
Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to time, too. Your time is precious, and if you focus on quality output, you use your time wisely.
This is relevant in your professional and personal life. For example, focusing on quality work might be the difference between a high or low salary.
At home, completing your chores as efficiently as possible can mean more time with your family or friends.
Are There Any Downsides to This Approach?
The benefits of quality over quantity are pretty straightforward, but are there any cases where you might want to prefer quantity over quality? It turns out there are a few!
A focus on quality can be labor-intensive. So quantity may be beneficial when you want to improve a skill, especially when it comes to manual labor.
For example, apprentice or student potters produce vase after vase and plate after plate on the pottery wheel in an attempt to improve their throwing skills.
When studying, researching, or investigating, having access to a high quantity of research materials on a subject can lead to far better outcomes than a limited data set or few research resources.
So, if you’re learning something new, you might want to focus on quantity, not quality. Quality comes after you feel comfortable in a medium or field.
Quality Over Quantity: Meaning Explained
Essentially, “quality over quantity” is part of the ever-growing frugality and minimalism movements. It embodies the idea that you should save your hard-earned money, time, and any other resources for what really matters.
We’ve dived deep into the quality over quantity meaning with the history, real-world examples, and benefits of this ubiquitous phrase. We hope that now you have a better grasp of how and why it’s become so popular!
Did you like this article about quality over quantity? Then, keep heading down the path of improving your life, and check out this post about cultivating a wealthy mindset next!
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