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Quality v. Quantity

Summary #

Quality refers to the superiority of an item over another. Quantity refers to the number of items.

There is a long-standing debate about whether students should focus on quality or quantity in order to improve their performance.

Old pottery

Quality doesn't matter if it's really old.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Commentary #

I once heard an interesting anecdote that I later saw repeated by Jeff Atwood and attributed to the book Art & Fear.

Here's the version I heard (it differs only slightly from the printed version):

On the first day of class, a pottery professor divides his class in two: The first group will be graded on quality—by the end of the semester, each person must produce one item which will be judged based on its quality. The other group will be graded purely on quantity—the total weight of all the items produced will be weighed with higher numbers given higher grades.

By the end of the semester, each person in the quantity group had produced works of higher quality than any of those produced in the quality group.

The second group had the opportunity to experiment and learn while the first was focused on refining an initial conception. The result seems less surprising when you think about it that way.

See Also #

  • Art & Fear at Amazon for a book that contains the anecdote.

  • Quantity Always Trumps Quality at Coding Horror by Jeff Atwood for a discussion of how this principle applies to software.

  • Pretotyping for our discussion of the broader trend of testing assumptions.