Artists Do Experience Hot Streaks, Researchers Say

It’s a phenomenon which up until this point has remained a mystery: the hot streak. The idea that successful individuals can experience short intense bursts of success throughout their career usually associated with financial markets, sports and in gambling. But now new studies have looked into whether the same can be said about the creative sector. 

Take for example Martin Scorsese’s hot run from 1973 (Mean Streets) to 1980 (Raging Bull) or what about The Beatles exceptional period of artistry between 1965 (Rubber Soul) to their final LP in 1970 (Let It Be) or what about Albert Einstein’s annus mirabilis at the patent office where he worked.

New research, headed by Dashun Wang of the Kellogg School of Management and published in the scientific journal Nature, found that it is common for an individual working in a creative industry to experience short spikes of a higher level of success, lasting a few consecutive years, within the lifespan of their career.

The study analysed the career histories of 3,480 artists, 6,233 film directors and 20,040 scientists through measuring elements such as IMDb ratings and auction prices of works and found that these periods of the exceptional work (commonly lasting 4 or 5 years) were ubiquitous in all three industries.

Artists were the group that scored the highest, with 91 per cent going through at least one stage of escalated brilliance, without any increase in the amount of work produced. Artists generally experience a hot streak of  around 5.7 years. The good news is that the hot streak experienced by artists and scientists can occur at any time in their career, the bad news, 64% of artists and 68% of scientists have only one streak, and more than two is very rare.

But what causes these surges of high-impact work within the lifecycle of creativity?
Wang gives various explanations and suggests that a combination of internal and external factors is the likely cause. For the individual, the increased confidence and ego that comes along with success could act as a powerful driving force behind the creation of work, a type of newly found confidence. Or, recognition from the outside could spur on achievement, through the potential for positive collaboration or through the age-old idea that if someone appears successful, then they probably will be.

Wang has stated that ‘none of these alone can account for the observations’. However, one thing we know for sure is that these results should not be underestimated. These findings not only deepen our understanding of the complex patterns and relationship between creativity and success, but this data could be used to spot talent in the future and be a way to nurture ‘individuals whose work will have a lasting impact’. If we are able to identify exactly when someone is at the top of their game, this may be the key to ensuring not only the creation of their best work but work that will change the world.