Achieving Excellence Through Iteration

When faced with tasks in life, many people fall into two approaches: quality or quantity. Sometimes this is framed instead as fast or slow. There is some tension between the two mindsets—a gradient between “move fast and break things” and “slow is smooth; smooth is fast”. I find I typically lean towards the slower end of the spectrum.

At the same time, this tension is natural. Another example is the balance between rigor and urgency. To quote two of Oxide’s values:

Rigor: Computing systems must be correct above all else, and we must be disciplined and thorough in our approach. We insist on getting at the root of things, and are unsatisfied to merely address their symptoms.

Urgency: We have finite resources and limited time with which to achieve our mission; we must be focused in our approach however immense the task at hand. Urgency should not be conflated with pace; it is important to move deliberately rather than hastily.

I recently re-read an excerpt that sheds a fun perspective on the balance: achieving quality through quantity. Gaining mastery through iterations and practice.

In Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles and Ted Orland tell the following story:

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, came 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.

This concept resonates with me.

I’ve been reflecting on areas of life where I could focus more on quantity, and through iterating and practice, improve. Sure, this concept obviously applies to things like shooting free throws, but what about designing software systems? Starting businesses? Mentoring others? I think there are many opportunities in my life where, rather than theorizing a perfect pot, I need to deliberately practice.

Posts from blogs I follow

Air Skoog

One of basketball's early jump shooters and my next dunk goal

via Vertically Challenged July 17, 2024

Put Up Or Shut Up

I feel like the tech industry is currently in the midst of the most bizarre cognitive dissonance I've ever seen — more so than the metaverse, even — as company after company simply lies about their intentions and the power of AI. I get it. Everybody wants

via Ed Zitron's Where's Your Ed At July 16, 2024

Turning Your Back On Traffic

We do a lot of walking around the neighborhood with kids, which usually involves some people getting to intersections a while before others. I'm not worried about even the youngest going into the street on their own—Nora's been street trained for abou…

via Jeff Kaufman's Writing July 16, 2024

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