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Graded for Quantity

I’ve seen a story from the book “Art and Fear”, that’s making its away around social media.


A 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: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 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”.

At grading time, 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.


There’s quite a lot to unpack here, but at heart I think there’s a simple lesson that I find encouraging:

Just start.

Whether it’s a sport, a skill, or spiritual development I can often find myself looking for the “one weird trick” that will create sustained, rapid growth. If I follow this program, or highlight that technique, or read this study the clouds will open and after a few minutes I’ll come out the other side transformed. There might be some momentary discomfort, but it will be like an 80s movie training montage, four minutes, a little of the right kind of effort, then success.

But that’s pretend.

Sometimes, when talking to kids, we’ll lay out the pattern for how to be “awesome in anything” and it’s pretty simple.

  1. Start

  2. Become consistent

  3. Become strategic

  4. Become sacrificial (shape your life to support victory in that thing)

  5. Refine

Three encouragements:

  1. Whatever thing you’re making, start. You’ll get better later. Start now.

  2. After that, focus on consistency. This is where I tend to fall down and I don’t think that’s alone. Nothing is changed by what I thought about doing, but in areas where I’ve been consistent I can see an equally consistent pattern of growth and change.

  3. (This is a weird one). It’s OK so stop at just OK in some things. Give yourself permission to do this.

If there’s something you wake up thinking about, that you find yourself working into conversations, maybe it’s time to start. Improvement will happen later. Now's the time to start.



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