The story of the shitty pots (make more, get better)

Make your shitty pots: from quantity to quality - Karen Reyburn


There’s a story about a ceramics teacher who split his class into two groups. One would focus on quality, making the very best ceramic pot, and only one; and the other would focus on quantity, making as many ceramic pots as they possibly could. The results would be graded accordingly: in the quality group, they’d need a near-perfect pot to get the highest grade. In the quantity group, their work would be literally weighed on scales, and the more pots, the higher the grade.

David Bayles in his book Art and Fear tells this story, and explains the result: “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 theorising about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

We’d expect the quality group to win out. After all, they had all that time, and only one pot to make! Piece of cake, right? The problem is in order to get to our wins, our perfect pot, we’ve got to fail and learn from it along the way. We have to make a lot of shitty pots if we’re going to craft the perfect one.

So the quantity group actually did far better. Yes, they churned out shitty pot after shitty pot, especially at the beginning: but they learned on the job. Literally felt what it was like to do something which resulted in cracks, or lumps, or a flat pancake instead of a pot.

Conceptual learning doesn’t help you create better. And it might even fool you into thinking you are creating the most perfect pot (or blog post, or video, or website page), when in fact it’s only adequate. You haven’t written enough shitty blogs, or recorded enough shitty videos, or published website pages which didn’t work.

The moral of the story is… make your shitty pots. If you want to get better at writing, write more. Write social posts and blog posts and email content and copy for a PDF guide. Write book chapters. The more you write, the better you will get, even if a lot of that writing doesn’t seem very good at the time. Maybe it actually isn’t very good. But that’s not the point. You’re using the quantity approach to learn.

I’ve been mulling this over the last few weeks, because whilst I absolutely know the impact of video, it’s the form of content I struggle with the most. I’ll put it off, come up with all the reasons today is not the best day for it, over-plan it, and end up taking ages to actually get the thing recorded.

I’m all for good quality videos, especially if they’re being used for website pages or training courses or places which are a bit more permanent.

But in order to get to those quality videos, I need to produce my equivalent of the shitty pots: video after video after video – even on the days when I don’t feel like it or don’t know what to say or my hair isn’t done or I’m outside and it’s windy or whatever.

On Sunday morning I was out on my daily walk – which I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling with a bit lately. I love a walk once I get outside, but i had a health wobble last month and since then I’ve found it hard to stay consistent. So I’m out on my walk, putting one foot in front of the other, and then I thought hey…what if I connected the two habits? What if I used my daily walk as an opportunity to pause for 90 seconds, record a quick video, share where I am that day and then carry on?

The point will not be to record the best video ever, one great video. It will be to record 100 short videos, some of them shitty videos perhaps, to figure out what I learn along the way.

If you want to follow my 100 day challenge they’ll be on my Instagram stories every day – and from time to time I’ll share some to LinkedIn. Here are the links to follow me:

Here’s my Instagram
Here’s my LinkedIn

If you want to join me you’re welcome, but if there’s something else you want to do, you do that.

Make your shitty pots, whatever format those take.

What is it you want to get really good at creating? How can you apply the quantity principle to it? Here are some examples of what you can try:

Video: Record a 60 or 90 second insta reel every day for a month. (Or for 100 days!) Play with the editing, the music, the captions, the GIFs. See what’s possible. Produce some really shitty videos. By the end of the month I guarantee your most recent video will be better than your first one.

Writing: Give yourself a word count and start your day by reaching that word count before you open email, before you get lost into all the weeds of the day. It could be something as simple as 200 words a day. It doesn’t even have to be good writing. It can be gobbledygook. But put your hands to the keyboard and write until you’ve hit your word count, and then stop.

Social media: Create a social post every day for a month. You could put these posts on one platform, or split it up and do three posts on Instagram and four on LinkedIn. It doesn’t have to be long, or ground breaking, or “professional”. Use what’s in front of you that day: did you have a great meeting with a client? Talk about that. Did you go to the beach with the kids and the dog? Share a photo or a short video of the waves.

Beyond marketing, you could apply this to other areas of your business. You could improve your onboarding by creating a Google doc and every single day adding content for one email to go into your onboarding process. Work on your company values by documenting notes about what you stand for, what you don’t, what matters to you and your firm. Change your sales process by editing a small part of your proposal template every day, over and over, sometimes making it better and sometimes making it worse. It will sort itself out. Your quantity approach will deliver in the end.

Accountants especially find the quality approach appealing. It feels like it will mean fewer “fails”. You can sit quietly in your office for months, building the perfect onboarding system, and when it’s ready you sweep aside the curtains and reveal what you have created. Ta daaa! You have crafted the greatest onboarding process known to humanity and to the accounting industry at large, and the world will— oh. Whoops. That first email you wrote two months ago isn’t quite relevant anymore because you changed a few things since then. Okay, fix that, sweep aside the curtain, TA DAAAA! It’s here, it’s perfect, it’s — oh. Actually, there are two new team members now whose names need to be added to the team list…and so it goes on.

It’s far better to start the bare bones of a system and add to it every day. With every new client, every new prospect, you make a tweak or a change. That’s the quantity approach. It’s faster, it’s more realistic, and it reflects a changing business. Yes, it includes a few fails along the way: but the end result is a much better system. Or blog post. Or video. Or ceramic pot.

Happy creating!

Oh – and below is my first day’s video!

What I’d love to hear from you today is:
What’s the one thing you could create a whole lot of, so you can get better?

Follow me


I’m not actually bummed about the grey weather we’re having. Here’s why.

I went for a walk in the MORNING today, which felt like i’m winning at life. 🏆 

Lately I’ve been fitting in my daily walk at 9 or 10pm after a long day of meetings. I’m super grateful for the way it’s still light so late at night, but a walk-at-end-of-day doesn’t have the same motivational kick as the walk-at-the-start. 🌑 

So that one little thing I did puts me at champion status, and affects my entire mindset for the day. 💪 

There are a lot of contributing factors to this morning’s walk, but the top one was that it was grey, cool, and windy...which is far more motivational to me than bright sunshine. 🌬 

I know, it’s weird.

The rest of britain is like UGH WHAT A SHIT SUMMER and i’m here going um...i really, really love the rain. And clouds. And cool breezes. And grey skies. ☔ 

I’ll join in the conversation and be like yea, yea, it really does suck...but that’s just to start conversation and show British solidarity. Deep down I don’t think it does suck. 👀 

I do like sunshine, but after spending 25 years of my life in Arizona, I don’t love or crave the heat. ☀ 

Anything over about 20 degrees and i start getting a bit antsy...and my limit is “23 with a breeze”. 😎 

If it’s higher than that I’ll literally hide inside, not rush out to sit in a beer garden or at the beach. I really don’t enjoy heat at all. 

So thanks grey skies and wind, you helped a lot today. 💪 

Just me? Everyone else dreaming of 30+ degrees and sunshine?? It’s okay if you are...i just...don’t get it. 🤣 

#justkeepgoing #walkoftheday #goodmorning #wegotthis #onestepatatime #motivation
Cancelling things is a superhero skill.

Not all the time, of course: we want to be trustworthy.

And the sheer stubbornness of being a business owner is good.

I can do it. I will do it. No matter what! I can make. this. work.

A product, an event, a new hire, a business.

So we keep pushing. Show up, send the emails, make the phone call, record the videos. More training for the new hire, more new hires. Make sure we never let anyone down.

Of course, things happen. We get sick, something happens to a family member, or there’s an emergency and we need to shift things around.

But cancelling things can be a superhero skill: when you do it well, knowing why it’s time to cut the cord and communicating it well.

Here’s some of what I consider when I’m trying to decide if it’s time to dig in, or stop & go another direction:

1. Does anyone even know about it?
Sometimes it’s been a big part of your business life and used a lot of brainpower, but no one outwith you and your team know it was meant to happen.

2. What’s the cost of not doing this now?
The full cost, more than financial, including:
- Motivational cost for you, team, clients
- Decreased trust for clients
- Loss of strategic partnership connection

3. Could you replace it with something else?
Another day, an online option, a template instead of custom build? Sometimes a replacement isn’t a cancellation at all. You’re doing it, but in a less costly way.

4. Do I have the energy and appetite to keep going?
I can do it with an automaton approach…but given the other things on my plate, where do I want my energy to go? How much do I have to give? Will it renew energy, or drain it?

I ended up cancelling a small event recently, & whilst I was disappointed, it was the right decision for these reasons.

It can feel embarrassing...but cancelling something can be a superpower, if it’s done well & communicated clearly and honestly. And when it’s more the exception than the rule.

Anything you are considering stopping? What impact might that have?

✨This is from this week’s Creative Headspace note. They go out every Friday - except for the rare occasions I skip a week for my own sanity. 😄 Sign up in bio!💌