Pottery class parable or Real Examples of Quantity leading to Quality

There is a story that keeps getting passed around about how focusing on quantity will increase quality faster than focusing on quality will.

The story is a pottery or ceramics teacher gave the class a choice. Get your grade for the whole class based on 1 perfect piece, or get graded on producing 50 lbs of pottery (or number of pieces produced etc, the story mutates but 2nd option is always about quantity)

Story says 50 lbs people had better quality than the 1 perfect piece people.

This story is not real. It is a parable. The pottery parable comes from the book Art and Fear. Here is Derek Sivers notes on that book.

Turns out the pottery parable was based on a real story of a real teacher. James Clear did the research and found the real teacher was Jerry Uelsmann. He wanted to motivate his Beginning Photography students at the University of Florida. The authors of the book changed it to ceramics because they referenced photography too much in the book.

Why does this story spread?

Real Life Examples

Jennifer DeWalt made 180 websites in 180 days.

The first websites I made in the project were pretty crappy. It took me all day to build the first website — the homepage for the project https://jenniferdewalt.com. Looking back, I’m not sure how it could have possibly taken that long, but I remember Googling furiously all day for answers. Every day I learned a little more. I was doing some pretty crazy stuff with css by Day 30 — Silly Kitty, I made a super simple rails app on Day 69 — Leave a Note, and by the end of the project I was making websites with Node.js — Day 178 — How We’re Feeling.

Minesweeper near the end from a button that does a random color at the beginning.

Here is the discussion on HackerNews that actually references the pottery quantity parable.

Ira Glass produced thousands of radio programs before he started ‘This American Life’

“And then when I was almost 30, I decided that I wanted to try to be a reporter myself, and I was not good at it. Like it would take me like a month to do a story that would take a normal reporter like three days. And I didn’t, I just, I was a terrible performer on the air, and I was not good at interviewing people in a way that you could broadcast. Like their quotes were good, but I sounded terrible in the tape. And um, and I just had to learn every single part of it.”

He eventually boiled his advice down into the quote about ‘the gap’

John Steinbeck wrote 30 books

His first novel, Cup of Gold, was published in 1929. East of Eden, considered by many including Steinbeck himself to be his best, was published in 1952.

So his best work was published 33 years into his career as a professional writer. Steinbeck, was 50 when East of Eden was published, and said

“I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”

Marshmallow Tower Research

Kanye West

Rovio made 51 games before Angry Birds


Code, design, cook. Make stuff. Cookies. @BYU grad.

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