Implementation Parable – The Ceramics Class

Implementation Parable – The Ceramics Class

There’s a classic story from the book Art and Fear:

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, come 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.

There are a couple of key lessons here:

1. Overcome Your Fears and Just Ship

Seth Godin always talks about shipping first. In other words, don’t spend too much time trying to deliver. Just deliver.

The same can be said for implementations. As you ship, your end product gets better because, with each iteration, you overcome your fears and you, subconsciously, move from quantity to quality as you deliver.

To learn more about shipping – read this article about shipping from Seth Godin.

The key here is that the “quantity” group was not expected to deliver any quality. For them, the expectations were pretty low, and so they did not feel the pressure of creating one perfect piece. You can learn from this. If you set the expectations of an implementation correctly, you’ll be in a better position to deliver quality.

2. Iterations let you learn from your Mistakes

As you do; as you fail – you learn. Failure breeds recovery. You develop a growth mindset – one in which you are continually learning as you go. As you build or configure – you learn. Developing One “perfect” pot breeds a fixed mindset where there is only success or failure – there is no growth. If you go into an implementation with a fixed mindset – you’ll be assigning yourself to the “perfect” pot group.

More on the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset here.

I’m certainly not advocating for failed implementations – only for acceptance that iterating and delivering faster will yield better results than aiming for perfection.

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