April 29, 2024

Double it, or cut it in half

Every year or so, I fall into the same trap – and it takes me days to get out of it.

That trap is the computer game Civilization. Originally designed by Sid Meier in 1991, the Civilization franchise, or “Civ” as most victims call it, is infamously the ultimate “one more turn” game – even if that turn comes at two in the morning. As anybody who has played one of these world-domination games, I both highly recommend it and caution against starting along this addictive journey.

I recently enjoyed reading Sid Meier’s new memoir, and in between a ton of other insights into his legendary creative process, there was one bit about how he goes about improving his work that immediately stuck with me. Here’s what he writes:

“This is not to say that every step needs to be tiny. Efficiency is the goal, which means many iterations, but also getting as much information as possible out of each iteration. One of my big rules has always been, "double it, or cut it in half." Don't waste your time adjusting something by 5 percent, then another 5 percent, then another... just double it, and see if it even had the effect you thought it was going to have at all. If it went too far, now you know you're on the right track, and can drop back down accordingly. But maybe it still didn't go far enough, and you've just saved yourself a dozen iterations inching upward 5 percent at a time. Less than a month before Civilization was published, I cut the size of the map in half. Of course a game about the entire history of civilization has to have a large map, but it turned out that the size wasn't as important as the sense of relentless progress. With a smaller map, the game moved faster, and that in turn made the map feel more epic than it had when it was twice as big— and if I'd been afraid to deviate too severely from what we already had, I never would have gotten to the right size in time before the game shipped.”

Double it, or cut it in half. Don’t waste your time inching to the right place; take big leaps and learn if something is working immediately. I love this model.

If you’re tinkering with a website design, increase that padding by 50px instead of 5px. When you’re writing a chapter of your book, cut out half of a story instead of a few words. Maybe these moves will work, or maybe you need to fine-tune back to somewhere in the middle. But even if you miss, now you have something to actually work with.

Meiers later writes, “There is no map before you’ve explored the wilderness, and no overriding artistic vision on Day One. There’s just the hard, consistent work of making something a little better each day, and being as efficient as possible in your discovery of what it’s going to turn out to be.”

The process is the inspiration. Quantity solves quality – take the big leaps and see what works.

About the Author

Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just wrote his first book (Simply Put), and works with cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.

Get my new book, it just came out.

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