The Parable of the Pottery Class

This is not an original story, but my rendition of a modern parable. I first read a simpler version of this tale years ago on a software development blog (possibly Coding Horror, but I’m not certain), and I have seen it several places since in various forms. I have modified the story slightly because most versions are written to emphasize the idea that “if you throw enough crap at the wall something will stick”, which is misleading.


The Parable of the Pottery Class

Once upon a time there was a beginner’s pottery class at a small college. The professor teaching the class soon ran into a problem with his students: few of them were completing their assignments within the allotted class time. Despite his prodding attempts to get them to use their time well, most of them simply didn’t know when their pot was done. They would waste whole class periods making endless adjustments to single pots, trying to coax those pots into more perfect shapes.

After the third week of mass dithering, the professor decided drastic action was required. He told the students he was splitting them into two groups as an experiment. The first group, the Quantity group, would be graded on how many complete pots they made. At the end of the class, if they’d made 200 pounds of pots they would get an A, 180 pounds would get a B, and so on.

The other group was the Quality group. They were only required to make *one* pot, but would be graded on the quality of that single pot.

And so the students went to work. The Quantity students spent their classes throwing pot after pot, while the Quality students spent their classes discussing the theory of pottery. What made a perfect pot? How big, and what profile? Handles or no handles? Over time the Quality students each settled on their own idea of pot perfection and threw their pots on the last working day of the class.

It was the professor’s custom to display select pots from each class for students of the next class, as inspiration for the new students. He chose the pots he would display the following semester on the last day of the class. Much to the students’ surprise, all of the pots he selected were made by the Quantity group. Nor could the Quality students argue, because they could see plainly that the chosen pots really were the best.

The professor explained that while paying attention to quality was important, ninety percent of achieving a quality result was *practice*. Thus the students who had made hundreds of pounds of pots had trained their hands, learned tricks and shortcuts, and had become very efficient and adept at producing a quality pot quickly. Even the most careful efforts of the unpracticed Quality group students did not match the casual efforts of the well-practiced Quantity group.

And so, hopefully, the students went home a little wiser than they’d begun.

The end.


I’ll riff on this idea more later. This post is also serving as a test post to see if SteemPress is working properly from my WordPress server. If it is, this should show up properly formatted at about 6 PM EST.

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