The Power of the Marginal
From “the Power of the Marginal” by Paul Graham:
When I was in college the rule seemed to be that you should study whatever you were most interested in. But in retrospect you’re probably better off studying something moderately interesting with someone who’s good at it than something very interesting with someone who isn’t. You often hear people say that you shouldn’t major in business in college, but this is actually an instance of a more general rule: don’t learn things from teachers who are bad at them.
I can’t help but notice how this is quite similar to my recent *ahem* post “Choose the Teacher, Not the Subject“,
The typical advice for students would be to pick the subject which they are most interested in [….] The advice I gave to my students was to pick the subject with the best teacher, regardless of whether the subject seems interesting or not.
Not surprisingly, I have been criticized for my view, so I was rather pleased when I approached the end of Graham’s essay:
This leads to my final suggestion: a technique for determining when you’re on the right track. You’re on the right track when people complain that you’re unqualified, or that you’ve done something inappropriate. […] And if they’re driven to such empty forms of complaint, that means you’ve probably done something good.
[…] Pointing out that someone is unqualified is as desperate as resorting to racial slurs. It’s just a legitimate sounding way of saying: we don’t like your type around here.