When you come across some era of history you've never heard before that might be fascinating, or an obscure but highly recommended book on conflict management, or you come across some primary source papers that are largely unread any more about an important event - jump on it right away.
You'll never really be motivated to read Baldissare Castiglione by Julia Cartwright. It's an obscure-ish book, cited not particularly often, about the 17th most interesting guy in the Renaissance. He hung out with da Vinci, and Borgia, and met all the Popes of his lifetime, but you'd have to either really love the Renaissance, or come across Il Cortegiano in research to read him.
Baldis-who? If you don't look him up now, it likely won't come up later.
A lot of good strategy and being a successful generalist is about picking up obscure skills. Steve Jobs talked in his famous Stanford address about how the class he took on calligraphy in his late teens became one of the drivers behind the Mac being the first computer with beautiful typeface.
There's plenty of calligraphers in the world, but how many calligrapher-entrepreneur-designers? A good mix and synergy of skills gives you the ability to make a contribution. A good mix and synergy that includes something obscure can help you make an original contribution.
Problem is, you won't know what that is in advance. So I say chase down the fleeting impulses. I don't know, he didn't say, but I'll hazard a guess Jobs got bored with calligraphy soon after, and didn't make it a major focus of his life. If he hadn't studied it when he did, he might never have done so.
With that said, I'll end with the note that you shouldn't get too into the obscure and fleeting. Don't forget to pick the low hanging fruit, those books and lessons and disciplines that are so massively amazingly insightful that you get immense amounts of impact from them. I think it's easy to get fatigued of a work you've never read but heard about too much, and thus miss out on something important. That's what happened to me with Think and Grow Rich - I only barely started reading it, and I'm kicking myself for not reading it earlier. Don't get too into the obscure and fleeting that you forget to pick those really large, juicy fruits of lessons.
So, I expect this one to be controversial. If you're a very sensitive person that likes to get offended, you might want to skip it. If you're in a hurry, feel free to skim the bold parts.
I didn't come from all that much. My great-grandparents and grandparents were dirt poor. My parents dug out of it a little bit, though I was born when they were young and unestablished. My kids will have more opportunities.
I wish to do much. How much is possible? To know, you have to study history.
So I study history. And looking at the history books, I see a number of differences between people of low birth and high birth.
Now, before I go any further, I recognize this is unfashionable and controversial to talk about in this day and age. But it's definitely a real phenomenon, and I've never shied from the truth even when unfashionable. Also, I think after reading this you'll see that the majority of high born characteristics are superior to low born characteristics, and it's worth learning, training, and becoming better.
Think of someone who has had a positive impact on your life. Someone you admire and respect, but don't know personally.
Some of you will pick a renowned writer or businessman. Others will pick an artist, businessman, scientist or movie star. Some of you may even pick a hard-working blogger. At least I would. But do you know what all these people have in common?
They are all producers.
I bet you didn't think of a person who spends most of his time watching TV shows, browsing the web or playing computer games. Because that person is a consumer, not a producer.
Consumption can be a lot of fun. We're all consumers from time to time. We enjoy the time we spend watching TV shows or playing computer games. However, the moment we turn off the TV, all the happiness is gone. Until we turn the TV back on, that is.