Copy What You Like:
How do you avoid copying the wrong things? Copy only what you genuinely like. That would have saved me in all three cases. I didn't enjoy the short stories we had to read in English classes; I didn't learn anything from philosophy papers; I didn't use expert systems myself. I believed these things were good because they were admired.
It can be hard to separate the things you like from the things you're impressed with. One trick is to ignore presentation. Whenever I see a painting impressively hung in a museum, I ask myself: how much would I pay for this if I found it at a garage sale, dirty and frameless, and with no idea who painted it? If you walk around a museum trying this experiment, you'll find you get some truly startling results. Don't ignore this data point just because it's an outlier.