Paul Graham谈模仿

美国著名程序员、博客作者和技术作家保罗·格雷厄姆(Paul Graham)在其个人网站上的长文《How to do great work》给仍然雄心勃勃的年轻人提了一些建议,适合每位对自己仍有期望的朋友反复阅读。下面是本文的第十九部分摘录:

People new to a field will often copy existing work. There’s nothing inherently bad about that. There’s no better way to learn how something works than by trying to reproduce it. Nor does copying necessarily make your work unoriginal. Originality is the presence of new ideas, not the absence of old ones.

There’s a good way to copy and a bad way. If you’re going to copy something, do it openly instead of furtively, or worse still, unconsciously. This is what’s meant by the famously misattributed phrase “Great artists steal.” The really dangerous kind of copying, the kind that gives copying a bad name, is the kind that’s done without realizing it, because you’re nothing more than a train running on tracks laid down by someone else. But at the other extreme, copying can be a sign of superiority rather than subordination.

In many fields it’s almost inevitable that your early work will be in some sense based on other people’s. Projects rarely arise in a vacuum. They’re usually a reaction to previous work. When you’re first starting out, you don’t have any previous work; if you’re going to react to something, it has to be someone else’s. Once you’re established, you can react to your own. But while the former gets called derivative and the latter doesn’t, structurally the two cases are more similar than they seem.

Oddly enough, the very novelty of the most novel ideas sometimes makes them seem at first to be more derivative than they are. New discoveries often have to be conceived initially as variations of existing things, even by their discoverers, because there isn’t yet the conceptual vocabulary to express them.

There are definitely some dangers to copying, though. One is that you’ll tend to copy old things — things that were in their day at the frontier of knowledge, but no longer are.

And when you do copy something, don’t copy every feature of it. Some will make you ridiculous if you do. Don’t copy the manner of an eminent 50 year old professor if you’re 18, for example, or the idiom of a Renaissance poem hundreds of years later.

Some of the features of things you admire are flaws they succeeded despite. Indeed, the features that are easiest to imitate are the most likely to be the flaws.

This is particularly true for behavior. Some talented people are jerks, and this sometimes makes it seem to the inexperienced that being a jerk is part of being talented. It isn’t; being talented is merely how they get away with it.

One of the most powerful kinds of copying is to copy something from one field into another. History is so full of chance discoveries of this type that it’s probably worth giving chance a hand by deliberately learning about other kinds of work. You can take ideas from quite distant fields if you let them be metaphors.

Negative examples can be as inspiring as positive ones. In fact you can sometimes learn more from things done badly than from things done well; sometimes it only becomes clear what’s needed when it’s missing.












#Paul Graham #How to do great work