BLOG*January 6, 2014

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There’s something to notice about successful people: they act quickly, even if they may fail. [This piece is excerpted from Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win by Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD., with the permission of Tarcher/Penguin. Copyright 2013 Ryan Babineaux, PhD., and John Krumboltz, PhD]

In the book, Art and Fear, the artists Ted Orland and David Waylon share a story about a ceramics teacher who tried an experiment with his class.

The teacher divided the students into two groups. Those sitting on the left side of the studio were to be graded solely on the quantity of their work, while those on the right, solely on the quality. The instructor informed the students in the quantity group that a simple rule would be applied to evaluate their grades: those who produced fifty pounds of pots would get an A, those who produced forty pounds a B, and so on.

For the quality group, the instructor told the students that he would assign a course grade based on the single best piece produced over the duration of the course. So if a student created a first-rate pot on day one of the course and did nothing else for the term, he would still get an A.

When the end of the quarter arrived and it came to grading time, the instructor made an interesting discovery: the students who created the best work, as judged by technical and artistic sophistication, were the quantity group. While they were busy producing pot after pot, they were experimenting, becoming more adept at working with the clay, and learning from the mistakes on each progressive piece.

In contrast, the students in the quality group carefully planned out each pot and tried to produce refined, flawless work, and so they only worked on a few pieces over the length of the course. Because of their limited practice, they showed little improvement.

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