Quality vs Quantity

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.

Art and Fear

During my internship at Facebook one of the engineers mentioned a curious thing. The best abstractions in use there weren’t created perfectly the first time. Instead they were re-written over and over again until they got to where they are now.

Note: Although the quote comes from Art and Fear, I re-discovered it while reading Hi: Narrative mapping the world by @craigmod


“Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile [Note: when running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six-and-a half minutes per mile]. So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.” I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.” He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.” I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.” So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run any more,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” He said, “Then die.” It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know, “Why did you say that?” He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

John Little in From the Art of Expressing The Human Body

Failure is an Option

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

Ken Robinson

In a startup, failure is expected. You don’t come to work expecting job security, you come to work expecting to fight every day for your survival. Failure should not be glorified, but neither should it be villianized. It’s simply a risk that you must take, if you want to succeed.

Compromising Vision

“When I made Dune, I didn’t have final cut. It was a huge, huge sadness, because I felt I had sold out, and on top of that, the film was a failure at the box office. If you do what you believe in and have a failure, that’s one thing: you can still live with yourself. But if you don’t, it’s like dying twice. It’s very, very painful.”

David Lynch in Catching the Big Fish


This weekend, I volunteered and attended the github conference (CodeConf). Overall, the conference was great: the food was great and the talks were fairly interesting. But most importantly, the people that attended the conference were interesting. Sitting down at lunch I would meet people from various backgrounds. I talked with people ranging from kernel developers all the way up to web developers. It was these conversations that really made the conference for me.

A presentation can be seen on Youtube and you can have the same experience as having seen it live, but you can't have a conversation with a video. The hard part of giving a talk is being concise, and to the point. Many of the presenters at the conference did just that, but others didn't. However, when you're talking to someone face-to-face you can guide them in the direction that interests you most. In a conversation you learn not about a topic that you may or may not find interesting. Instead, you can guide the conversation to a place that you would love to hear about.

Im not advocating that conference style presentations should be abolished, no. These presentations provide a central theme for conversations to revolve around, they make sure that the people attending have similar interests. When performed well, these presentations can even be more enlightening than a conversation. For example, the metrics presentation at CodeConf did just that. However, not all coders are great public speakers, and in this gap there is a ton of knowledge that needs to be spread.

I guess the moral of this post is: don't go to a conferences just to hear a guy speak, its not worth the money. Instead go to conferences to find people that don't speak, but have something to teach you.