Chuck Bearden posted this quote from Steve Holmes on his blog the other day:
Usefulness comes not from pursuing it, but from patiently gathering enough of a reservoir of material so that one has the quirky bit of knowledge … that turns out to be the key to unlocking the problem which someone offers.
Holmes was speaking specifically of theology. I edited out some of the particulars of his quote to emphasize that his idea applies more generally.
Obviously usefulness can come from pursuing it. But there’s a special pleasure in applying some “quirky bit of knowledge” that you acquired for its own sake. It can feel like simply walking up to a gate and unlocking it after unsuccessful attempts to storm the gate by force.