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Thinking in Progress  • • •

Quantity is the journey to quality

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

From Art & Fear

If the destination is quality, the journey is quantity.

People try to pick apart a success’ destination, then replicate that. They ignore the journey.

That’s like trying to make Coke by mixing together the ingredients listed on the can, when what you need is the recipe.

People pick apart quality to no end; they seek to understand every ingredient within it. What makes it high quality? Attention to detail. Innovative thinking. A strong command on design. Etc. But those are simply ingredients; they cannot be mixed to achieve the same result.

You can pick apart what makes something of fantastic quality, but ultimately that ingredients list won’t intuitively get you to the recipe: Quantity.

It is in producing lots, over and over again.

Pablo Picasso produced 50,000 pieces of work. That’s a huge number! 50,000 is equivalent to one a day for well over a century.

Your masterpiece isn’t built by chiseling away at it for years; your masterpiece is built by chiseling away for years first, on many pieces that each teach you something.

Further reading

Opening with the same passage from Art & Fear, Jeff Atwood discusses this nicely in Quantity Always Trumps Quality as well as with specific application to software development in When Understanding means Rewriting.

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