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Scientists clear up the mystery surrounding creative ‘hot streaks’

Artists’ ability to produce “hits” is no coincidence.

A new study published in the journal Nature reveals that “hot streaks,” or moments of creative inspiration do exist, and do not happen at random, reports Emma Betuel for Inverse. The study was led by associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management Dashun Wang, who originally supported the “random impact rule.” The rule held that career achievements generally appeared at random, perhaps in the beginning or middle or end of someone’s career. His latest theory refutes that rule, and establishes “hot streaks” as a non-random occurrence backed by science.

With his team, he examined the three biggest “hits” of someone’s career and compared the time that passed between each event. To accomplish this, he used statistical analysis of “hits” made during the careers of 3,480 artists, 6,233 movie directors, and 20,040 scientists. “If you look at the first big hit alone, you’d think, ‘Oh, that’s also random,’” he says. “But then we realized it’s because they’re all next to each other.” The team discovered that the biggest hits of a person’s career tend to appear in succession to one another. However, the first big hit that begins the hot streak does happen randomly. Following the first hit, the amount of time that passes between the next two big hits is fairly short.

They also found that hot streaks tend to last several years. According to their analysis, for artists, hot streaks lasted 5.7 years, and for directors, they lasted 5.2 years. Scientists’ hot streaks only lasted 3.7 years. The team calls these hot streaks “an endogenous shift in creativity.” Wang explains that “it’s not that you produce more during a hot streak, it’s just that for whatever reason, what you produce is substantially better.”

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