From last week's Freakonomics podcast, a conversation with Ed Glaeser about Gary Becker, an economist whose career was punctuated with unpopular - and brilliant - stances. Note, the references to wilderness are referring to periods where Becker studied subjects that were at the time considered taboo.
Dubner: I’m curious whether you think that there are any lessons to be learned from Gary Becker’s experience generally, and maybe how anybody who’s listening to this, whatever occupation or vocation they might be thinking about, could perhaps apply some of that determination of Gary Becker’s to their own lives?
Glaeser: I think Becker is different from many of the wilderness-years-type scientists that we think of in the sense that he was not somebody who came out of nowhere who had a brilliant idea and was mocked for it initially. He was someone who was part of a very well-established economics department, who had, early respect, early rewards in lots of different ways. But what’s different from many of us is that he didn’t in any sense rest on those, and he didn’t rest them not just in the sense that he kept working, although he worked like heck. He didn’t rest on them in the sense in which he decided to risk everything on every throw of the dice, right? He wanted to always be out there. He wanted to push as far as he could. He wanted be as risky; he wanted to risk going back into the wilderness even though he had, you know, gotten himself a seat in the throne room, right? And that’s what’s really special about him, it’s being in the wilderness by design, by choice. Here’s a guy who over and over again decided to take those risks, to court disaster, to be on the very edge, to go into rooms, to enter fields in which he knew that people were going to think that he was outrageous. He knew that people were going to denigrate his work. And yet he still did it. And that’s what made him so productive. And I think the challenge for all of us, particularly all of us who are in the idea business is it’s a reminder to try to push ourselves as much as possible to try to be different, to be unpopular often, to do things that are troubling to the status quo, that risk us being thought of as being, you know, less than we are.