We generally think that a great work product – especially an artistic effort – is imagined, conceived, and launched simultaneously. But the notion that a single, smart idea can immediately turn into a brilliant final version has the same logic flaw of a newborn baby popping out of the womb with a college degree.
In fact, one of the most important steps of the creative process is often overlooked: the refinement stage. In a recent interview, Lady Gaga said that many of her songs are written in only 15 minutes, but that it takes 1-2 more years to complete them. She gets the initial concept on the page quickly but spends a disproportionate amount of her creative efforts in refining, polishing, shaping, and fine-tuning her work. A pie-chart of her creative process would show a teeny-tiny sliver of time spent on initial ideation, with the vast majority of the time polishing it to perfection. The exact opposite of what we’d think.
It’s been said that the one thing all great authors have in common is lousy first drafts. The difference between a bad book, a mediocre book, and a breakaway bestseller is often in the amount of time invested in the refinement stage. When a writer quickly dumps their ideas onto a page and ships them to print, the end result isn’t usually their best work. In contrast, their masterpiece only comes through investing time in the unglamorous and painstaking process of refinement.
The difference between good and great can be directly linked to the number of revisions.
Working on a large rebranding effort with my team, I experienced this phenomenon myself over the past few months. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, we had more time than usual and decided to invest it into the refinement phase. We tweaked and polished, questioning and nudging forward all the small details that would have previously been overlooked.
The result was an end product that’s dramatically better than anything we’ve done in the past. It really hit me that the initial concepts were similar in quality to previous work, but it was the big investment in the refinement stage that drove the biggest impact.
Whether a great piece of work is a sales presentation, an email, a painting, or a song, the ones that have heavy investment in the refinement stage will overshadow the common, rushed work that most of us create.
To elevate your work to the next level, spend more time tweaking and polishing. Embrace the refinement stage, and your output can achieve Gaga-level results.