The Best Way to Learn Something? Make a Lot of Pots


A few weeks ago, I posted one of my favorite stories as an answer to this Quora question on how to acquire a new skill. The story has sparked a lot of interesting discussion and as of this writing has over 5.6k upvotes, so I’m re-posting it here. I think it’s highly applicable to entrepreneurship.

What’s the best way to learn something?

An old teacher of mine told me a story that stuck with me the rest of my life:

A pottery teacher split her class into two halves.
To the first half she said, “You will spend the semester studying pottery, planning, designing, and creating your perfect pot. At the end of the semester, there will be a competition to see whose pot is the best”.
To the other half she said, “You will spend your semester making lots of pots. Your grade will be based on the number of completed pots you finish. At the end of the semester, you’ll also have the opportunity to enter your best pot into a competition.”
The first half of the class threw themselves into their research, planning, and design. Then they set about creating their one, perfect pot for the competition.
The second half of the class immediately grabbed fistfulls of clay and started churning out pots. They made big ones, small ones, simple ones, and intricate ones. Their muscles ached for weeks as they gained the strength needed to throw so many pots.
At the end of class, both halves were invited to enter their most perfect pot into the competition. Once the votes were counted, all of the best pots came from the students that were tasked with quantity. The practice they gained made them significantly better potters than the planners on a quest for a single, perfect pot.

No one knows how to start and grow a company until they’ve tried it. As I’ve shared before, when I started my first company, I didn’t have a clue about how to land new business, how to hire the right people, how to organize a team, and how to make sure there was always enough money in the bank to pay them.

Learning how to do those things required doing them. Over and over again, making some ugly pots along the way, until I got it right. Through trial and error, and repetition, an entrepreneur will eventually figure out how to build a company and make it successful. It just takes persistence, a real desire to learn, and a willingness to be wrong sometimes.

In life and in business, the best way to learn a skill, is to make a lot of pots.


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Since posting my answer, I’ve discovered what I think might be the original version of the “pots” story in a book called Art and Fear. It also appears in The Millionaire Real Estate Agent.