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A march towards quality

A march towards quality

So, I have been having discussions with a very good friend of mine over the past many months. While I have bounced around ideas on how to write about specific topics, I have never been able to actually start. Today, he challenged me to write something anyway, no matter how shitty it is. After racking my brains on how to come up with the perfect subject matter, I was reminded of this story from the book Art & Fear. Ever since I read it, I have been boring all my friends and everyone I meet with it. It is a famous parable in the book, and goes something like this:

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.

While the implications of the story are obvious, and most of you are nodding your head vigorously while applauding the simplicity of the message, it is worthwhile to delve a little deeper. The story is particularly powerful because our initial reaction is one of amazement and awe. However, the awe subsides very quickly as comprehension takes hold and it is immediately obvious from our own experiences that this must be true.

Then, why is our initial reaction one of awe? I believe it is primarily because we are less inclined to believe that a random group of students can iteratively learn without having any outside impetus to do so (since they were tasked only with coming up with quantity, not quality). However, when the discussion becomes personal, we can feel the truth of the story because clearly, that is exactly what we would do in that situation. I certainly would like to think so.

In any case, the clear message is that it’s far superior to start from a horrible iteration and work your way up to quality instead of sitting, reading and theorizing about the right way to get there. I must admit, I have been plenty guilty of the latter. Actually, in software development, quantity does inform quality. Over time, the most prolific developers end up writing the best code.

So, I am going to start small and get back into the habit of writing random thoughts on this blog. If, and when, the material becomes post-worthy for other places, I might actually publish. But for now, it is all quantity with absolute disregard towards quality.




Writing – original opinions or commentary?

Writing – original opinions or commentary?


Ever since tools like wordpress and other blogging engines have become popular on the web, a lot of people have started writing. It is phenomenal that people, including myself, have discovered that they really wanted to write and be read. I guess there is some vanity in that, as well as pride when other people ‘follow’ one’s blog. But it seems that the majority of such writings are really not much more than a commentary on what’s going on in the world anyway. I come across a plethora of blogs that started with the intention of the author to examine a particular subject in depth, but somehow lost their focus. Instead, they turned to writing about the current news, and their opinions of the news. What is interesting is that their opinions are still not surfaced. In a majority of the cases, they simply report the news, and link to some other reporter’s original blog. However, there is a mad rush among such blogs to jump on a news item quickly.

What is striking though, is that this still instills in the authors a sense of achievement, even though they are neither responsible for the news, nor for the opinions, or even the breaking of the news itself. But if even 200 people read their blogs, it makes the author of such blogs feel a certain amount of pride. This is the result that most blogs turn away from a specific topic, and instead talk more about the various things of interest to the author. This is neither a good, nor a bad thing. The striking point here is that the author assumes that the topics of interest to himself will also be of interest to other people. And it is! As there is more and more power in the hand of the consumer, those consumers tend to go for the things of interest to them. Thus, if the blogger enjoys gardening, celtic music, and packers football, there is a great chance that someone else who is interested in gardening, but not in football will still follow the blog. In doing so, the reader is actually introduced to newer ways of looking at football, as well as a sense of belonging since someone with similar interests in gardening is also interested in football. In this sense, the blog certainly brings the world closer.

Whether authors write original opinions or commentary, there is a lot of information out there. What was considered news earlier is nothing more than opinions, either structured or unstructured. Current trends suggest that both have a place in the act of dissemination of information. However, the real challenge will be in how we can filter information effectively for a specific purpose.

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