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?
It is a real sounding story that tell the quantity over quality story. Practice makes perfect etc. It is a neat compact story to get the idea across. It sounds official because of grading and a teacher. Most of us don’t get graded. You don’t get graded on your side projects and hobbies. So the grading aspect makes it seem more real.
Real Life Examples
But I don’t love parables. I want real life examples. So I decided to try and find real examples of where quantity lead to quality.
Jennifer DeWalt made 180 websites in 180 days.
Here first websites were super basic. But by then end she was making some really cool things!
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.
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’
This American Life is heard by 2.2 million listeners a week on 500 stations. An additional 1.6 million listeners download the podcast. But Ira started as a tape cutter and worked for years as a producer. Even when he started to be a reporter it didn’t go well.
“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
Steinbeck is considered one of the greatest American writers of all time. I have never read one of this books. But he wrote over 30 books in his lifetime. Most of them we have probably never heard of.
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
Groups are challenged to build the tallest tower to hold up a marshmallow with spagetti and other materials. Business students do the worst, kids do the best because the kids just try stuff and make a lot of prototypes.
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Kanye West once famously rapped: “Lock yourself in a room, Doing five beats a day for three summers.”
We are not sure if he actually did that, but he is known for being able to create a beat in 15 minutes. He recorded a lot of College Dropout in his apartment and would often wake up in the middle of the night to record or re-record something.
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Rovio made 51 games before Angry Birds
However their others games made for 3rd parties had sold millions of copies for Nintendo etc. So maybe this is less of quantity, and more of surfing waves of change because the iPhone made being able to reach millions of consumers a lot easier.