Creative Career ‘Hot Streaks’: Scientists discover they really exist

We have all heard about individuals who have hot streaks in the sports, financial and gambling arenas. But what about the hot streaks individuals seem to have in the creative industries?  Can filmmakers, artists and other creatives really have streaks of unusual success in their individual careers?  A group of international scientists set out to explore just that.  They studied the data of career success of people in the creative fields as well as scientists to determine if hot streaks were an actual phenomenon that could be documented, and if so, the factors surrounding those occurrences.


Hot streak: Finding patterns in creative career breakthroughs

International research team discovers career hot streaks occur in science, art and film


Primary purpose of study

To discover whether hot streaks do in fact exist in creative careers.


Secondary purpose of study

To understand the innovative process, and to potentially discover and cultivate individuals during a hot streak.


The study

A team of researchers, including two from Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, examined the works of nearly 30,000 scientists, artists and film directors to learn if high-impact works in those fields came in streaks.


The findings

The scientists did indeed find a universal pattern in the individual careers of creatives and scientists.  In fact, 90 percent of professionals in the creative and scientific arenas had at least one hot streak, and some had two or three.


Previous explanations for career hot streaks

There exists two schools of thought for explaining individual career hot streaks.  The first is the Matthew Effect:  The more famous one becomes in their career field, the more exposure one experiences, and the more chance for future success.  This appears to support the existence of patterns of success like hot streaks.  The second school of thought says that spikes or patterns in one’s career success are pretty much random and if they happen, are driven by periods of increases in productivity. This theory basically says if you throw enough spaghetti noodles up against the wall, eventually one or more of them are going to stick.


The new theory surrounding individual career hot streaks

“We found a period when an individual performs better than his normal career, and that the timing of a hot streak is random…Different from the perception [in innovation literature] that peak performance occurs in an individual’s 30s or 40s, Our results suggest that individuals have equal chance to perform better even in their late careers.”

-L. Liu, researcher, Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology


Variables surrounding hot streaks

The researchers also wanted to learn if individuals were more productive during their hot streak periods, which last an average of four to five years. Unexpectedly, they were not.


“Individuals show no detectable change in productivity during hot streaks, despite the fact that their outputs in this period are significantly better than the median, suggesting that there is an endogenous shift in individual creativity when the hot streak occurs.”

-Authors, “Hot streaks in artistic, cultural, and scientific careers”,  Nature


What’s next?

Now that the scientists know hot streaks do in fact exist in creative careers, the researchers hope to apply the research methods to more domains, including musicians, inventors and entrepreneurs.


What do you expect they will find?



See the study here:

Journal Reference:  Lu Liu, Yang Wang, Roberta Sinatra, C. Lee Giles, Chaoming Song, Dashun Wang. Hot streaks in artistic, cultural, and scientific careers. Nature, 2018; 559 (7714): 396 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0315-8


Study overview


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