Which Comes First – Quantity or 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 side solely on its QUALITY.”
“Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were ALL produced by the group being rated for QUANTITY.
It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily turning 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.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
- Learning is valued in organizational life.
- You’ll do the project again. Learning-as-you-go is most valuable when you’ll use what you learn in the same context, again and again.
- Experience is transferable to other projects.
- Falling short won’t be catastrophic. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If the worst isn’t that bad, what are you waiting for?
- The people you serve know and trust you.
- Growth and risk-taking is valued in the organization.
- Your track-record trends upward. When your track-record trends downward, it’s usually better to hold back and perfect a win.
- The timeline is short and the initiative is worth the effort.
- The leadership team supports you as you learn-as-you-go.
- Learning excites you more than failure defeats you.
Perfect before you go:
Perfect-before-you-go matters when stakes are high. Think of brain surgery and flying airplanes.
I tend to be a learn-as-you-go person. I’m learning to listen to those who think differently. Sometimes I ask myself, what would my perfect-before-you-go friends do.
When is a learn-as-you-go approach most useful?
When should leaders choose a perfect-before-you-go approach?
Thanks to Joe Tye for originally sharing the story from Art and Fear.
The vast majority of time is not involved with high stakes. Most work is mundane, repetitious and within that context one can learn as you go to improve on processes and details and with enough practice can adjust to dead lines and differences in flow. Too often people look at everything as high stakes or they get consumed in process, “you put too much detail in the product line Roger, we all agreed to leave that detail out”, When in fact the extra detail was important and anyone who does not need it can easily delete it. Then again I’ve had many years of practice as a non conformist who concentrates on detail and task completion and I’ve been very successful at it Very few are aligned this way in the work world.
Thanks Roger. I find your comment useful. Especially the first two sentences. When work is repetitious, keep learning as you go. Cheers
The last three months I have been consumed with continuous request for quotes spreadsheets from pretty much every customer of ours. These are 500 to 5000 line RFQs for various products. These lists are produced by buyer staffs who have no idea as to what the parts actually are. So I have to spread the lists out to un inspired and not happy inside Millenial staff who know some parts but not all and they don’t know for the most part how to work outside the box to find details and don’t really want to learn. So I am either in a repetitious loop to find accurate parts details myself or perform the qc/qa check on what the inside staff finds themselves. I also have to revalidate any parts won before final contract issuance. I am good at what I do, I know the full range of parts (or where to find said details) and turn the tasks into better product outcomes the more I do it. I however find myself continuously tired, worn out with hurt eyes (in spite of Gunnar optical glasses and a large screen magnifier). I do believe I’ve taken learnings from these repetitious tasks to the max, just wish I could get some of the other guys to do so also.
This was not the story I was expecting when I read the start of the story, Dan. I expected something like the quantity didn’t count unless the quality was there. This is a great story of how important learning is. It is exactly what we try to do with continuous improvement. It takes a fair amount of courage to be willing to fail. We all know that when we fail we learn the most. We just have to be able to fail fast and move forward with each cycle. Thanks for the story.
Thanks Susan. There is an gut feel that we should aim for the highest quality. But after thinking it over, quantity has it’s advantages.
I think the QUANTITY side needs to make reasonable efforts to produce quality. In other words, intentionally producing low quality work isn’t useful.
My story with Leadership Freak has been one of quantity over quality. I set a deadline in the morning and click the publish button. Once in a while you get it right.
Dan – Beg to differ. You are right much more than once in a while! Thank you for the enlightening sharing of information.
First comes customer affordability 🙂
Ok, #1 is Requirements. Requirements usually start with affordability. Quantitative vs Qualitative need often becomes a compromise.
From this basis I would disagree that there is much scope for learning-as-you-go since requirements present constraints that define extent of compromise possibilities.
There is still however a place for learning, in understanding the need, and making an attempt to satisfy it innovatively.
This is where leadership counts because on the one hand one has to direct the effort towards a set aim, and on the other the effort should not be stifled from the creative input. This is not so much as a compromise but a balancing act because the innovative solution can emerge at any time in the process of fulfilling requirements.
I think this was covered in another post earlier in the year.
I really believe in this. Depending on the project, I like to get things 90-95%set and structured and adjust with roll out. I have seen Leaders get so set in what they had planned that they can’t adjust to operational varienses that occur. Flexibility within a structured system is necessary.
Quantity is irrelevant if the quality is so low you can’t even give it away.
In short, READY, FIRE , AIM! (Tom Peters I believe)
I think learn as you go approach is useful when you are in unchartered territory. Sometimes people have a good idea and they spend so much time perfecting it that the idea never comes to fruition . I think you are better off pulling the project together and putting it out there and see where your weaknesses are, grow and make the idea better. Keep revising, keep growing.
The perfect before you go approach should be taken when you are making mistakes because you are simply going too fast. If you would have reviewed the material or had a group meeting to evaluate the product and put more eyes on the product, and then you would have caught the mistake, then you are moving too fast.
Dan, what an insightful story on quality, quantity, teaching, learning, and leadership. Perhaps the moral is the great tragedy of teaching and learning that we are not what we ought to be until we are doing what we ought to be doing, and also not spending our whole lives perfecting ourselves. Thank you.
I recognize one of my own faults as seeking perfection and spending more time than is probably necessary striving for perfection. But in seeing this, I try to remind myself of “balance” (as some have mentioned above). When I was young, and running track and cross-country, my coaches always said “practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect-practice makes perfect”. Then in later life, when I was learning to play the guitar, so many instructors said “in order to play fast, you must first play slow”… too many people want to play fast right away, to be like their idols, then get frustrated with how difficult it can be. I think both my coaches and instructors were saying it’s more difficult to break bad habits that develop early, so going slowly and perfecting a base level of skill and knowledge is essential first, and the speed will come. I realize not everything works this way, and I see the point about quickly working through trial-and-error to get to the successes quicker, especially when there are lots of unknowns you’re working through (ie, Thomas Edison working through all the failed filaments for the light bulb before finding one that worked). Thanks for bringing up the topic! As a training professional, I think clarifying quantity vs quality is a critical thing to talk about as learners are developing new skills.
Boy I am in a responding mood today. I find your discussion on “Perfection” interesting Chris; I’ve always found that I can’t really achieve perfection (other than on a test score), I can only do my best and if it comes out close to perfection that’s ok. What I’ve always run on was to do my best in every endeavor and I’d like to believe I’ve always tried hard to do this. What bugs me is to see “less than best effort” in others when I know they can do it but just choose NOT to.