The Virtues of Continues Improvement


In a video called “Why You Need to Fail”, CD Baby founder Derek Sivers describes the surprising results of a ceramics class.

On the first day, the instructor announced to his class that the students would be divided into two groups. Half of the students would only need to make one clay pot each during the semester. Their grades would depend on the perfection of that solitary pot.

The other half of the class would be graded simply by the weight of the pots they made during the semester. If they made 50 pounds of pots or more, they’d get an A. Forty pounds would earn a B; 30 pounds, a C; and so on. What they actually made was irrelevant. The instructor said he wouldn’t even look at their pots. He would simply bring his bathroom scale to the final day of class and weigh the students’ work.

At the end of the semester, an interesting thing had occurred. Outside observers of the class noted that the highest-quality pots had been made by the “quantity group”. They had spent the entire semester working as quickly as they could to make pots. Sometimes they succeeded, and sometimes they failed. Which each iteration, each experiment, they learned. From that learning they became better able to achieve the end goal: making high-quality clay pots.

By contrast, the group that made one object didn’t have the benefit of those failed iterations and didn’t learn quickly enough to perform at the same level as the “Quantity group”. They had spent their semester theorizing about what would make a “grade-A” clay pot but didn’t have the experience to execute that grandiose vision.

 

 

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