Producer Quincy Jones on producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller album:

Well, we had great rhythm sections, which we did first. We did what we called Polaroids. We must’ve looked at 600 or 700 songs. When you get a song you feel you like, you put it down with a rhythm section to get it on its feet, and then you hear Michael sing a couple of takes on it, maybe with a couple of background lines to see how it holds up, so you can see what it might be and you’re not just wasting your time. We called those Polaroids. Then, when something sticks, you develop it further, get into background lines and horns or synthesizers or whatever else you’re going to be using.

I like “Polaroids” as a way to quickly get across the idea of rapid prototyping. Go through a ton of stuff and give it all a quick shot. Then see what sticks and devote more resources to that. That way, failure is cheap. You’re actually expecting failure and embracing the idea that only a small percentage of your ideas are truly good enough to earn a big chunk of your attention.

The LAByrinth Theater Company, a collective in New York that specializes in new American plays, provides another example of the Polaroid approach. Every year, LAB has a two-week “summer intensive” workshop during which 35 to 40 plays are rehearsed and read. Company members then offer their critiques and the artistic directors then select the 10 or 15 plays they would like to see go to the next step. Again, failure is cheap.

Good inspiration. If LAB can put on 40 plays in two weeks, what can we get done in that amount of time? We always say we don’t have enough time, but maybe the problem is we’re just trying to do things too well.