Just Keep Learning

Success Is Math As Told By Ed Sheeran

Episode Summary

Working on a dream or goal? What is more important, quality, or quantity? Listen for some great clips from Ed Sheeran, where he reminds us that learning a new skill is all about math.

Episode Notes

In this solo episode, we hear from the superstar musician Ed Sheeran. He's sold hundreds of millions of dollars in music and yet his common sense approach to building skills can help any of us, with any skill we want to build. 

We also hear about the famous pottery parable where a professor tested the concept of quality vs quantity in his art class.


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Episode Transcription

3. Success Is Math As Told By Ed Sheeran

Would you rather work toward YOUR dream? Or someone else’s? Either way, the path to succeed comes down to math, and a bit of luck. But mostly math.

In this episode there are two rare clips from Ed Sheeran where he shares a glimpse into effective learning and that we all start out with no skill. Even though he is a musician, the lessons can be used for any skill that you would like to improve.

Now, learning, for the sake of learning, is good, but what if you want to be the absolute best you can be at your craft? Maybe even the best in the world.

If we want to learn a specific skill, then focus is important. To be the best musician, actor, or basketball coach requires a consistent effort that adds up over time. 

In this case, the relentless focus on our craft becomes important.

Take a listen to Ed Sheeran talking about trying again and again, as a process, over time to reach success.


This is much like wanting to get really strong in a specific craft.

If you want to be the best you can be, then define your focus and chip away at getting in the repetitiions as much as possible. The best and the only way to get better is to do it. We learn and grow with as much intentional practice as possible.

Specific to music, Sheeran said that your first writing will suck, but you’re hundredth will be much better. Your stage presence, voice, and marketing will be awkward for a while, but over time it will improve.

No matter what the goal, when you have time to practice, any time at all, get it in. Build habits and systems that allow you to dedicate as much practice time as possible within your current circumstances.

It all adds up in the end if we just keep learning.

Now I know what you might be thinking… This is Ed Sheeran, he’s probably super “quote un quote” gifted. Or a natural. He’s such a great musician this doesn’t apply to me. Well that’s where the second, and possibly more powerful clip comes in. In a now viral interview clip, he shares how he was not good at singing, but that he wanted to get good, so he put in the work. Hearing this from someone who has won many music awards, and sold a few hundred million dollars worth of music is pretty powerful!


Needless to say, even Ed Sheeran wasn’t the best singer and had to put in the work, just like you will in whatever skill you are working toward. The whole idea is that we want quality. But, the only way to quality is through quantity. The more we put in specific, dedicated, thoughtful and efficient practice the better. Just keep putting in more reps.

This idea is similar to a famous parable from Ted Orlands book Art & Fear:
[A] 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 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.

Like any great short story with a lesson, this one allows us to visualize the concept as it relates to our own lives. Maybe you want to improve your social media skills, photography, or writing. It doesn’t matter what the skill is. Once you’ve decided on something it is a matter of getting in the repetitions as many times as possible. 

Would love to see you put in the reps, so let me know what you're working on so we can celebrate together.