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

Learn-as-you-go when:

  1. Learning is valued in organizational life.
  2. 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.
  3. Experience is transferable to other projects.
  4. 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?
  5. The people you serve know and trust you.
  6. Growth and risk-taking is valued in the organization.
  7. Your track-record trends upward. When your track-record trends downward, it’s usually better to hold back and perfect a win.
  8. The timeline is short and the initiative is worth the effort.
  9. The leadership team supports you as you learn-as-you-go.
  10. 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.