In his post Quantity Always Trumps Quality, Jeff Atwood made a very interesting reference to an arts-related book:
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.
If I tell you that you’ll get better at doing something if you do it repeatedly you’ll probably stare at me with a look of obviousness, but even then the correlation made above still feels a bit surprising to a lot of people. Why is that so?
I have a guess. In our society we tend to believe that art and innovation is something for the gifted, rather than the product of hard work. Just think of any great famous painter or musician and you’ll likely have in your mind the concept of a uniquely gifted genius, rather than someone that worked uniquely hard after a goal.
Perhaps that’s why we tend to forget long learned lessons. Some 23 years ago Frederick Brooks already pointed out in The Mythical Man-month that we should plan to throw away the first version of the software, because it most likely will be a poorly designed prototype that provides insight into the problem for the actual production version. Even then, it’s still rare to see the practice intentionally in use nowadays.