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What Scientists, Creative Professionals and Gamblers Have in Common

Topics: Career Profiles
hot streaks

You may be most familiar with the concept of a hot streak when it comes to something like gambling. But, can this type of phenomenon also occur for creative professionals or even scientists?

Some days (and maybe even some years) you might be more productive or experience greater success. You might even find that your work is just better at certain points in your career, despite the fact that you’re working the same as you always have.

As much as you might try to do your best every day, sometimes your work just seems to come together … and other times, not so much. But why does good work tend to happen in chunks? A team of researchers set out to learn more. Their paper, Hot streaks in artistic, cultural, and scientific careers, which recently appeared in Nature, sheds some fascinating light on the matter.

A few key findings:

Hot Streaks Happen, But They’re Rare

For this project, researchers examined the works of more than 20,000 scientists, 3,000 artists and 6,000 film directors, according to Quartz. They found that in about 80 to 91 percent of cases, individuals experienced at least one “hot streak” over the course of their career. The timing of these periods, when an individual performs better than is typical for them, was random. In about a third of cases, researchers were able to identify two hot streaks. More than two was rare.

“We find that, across all three domains, hit works within a career show a high degree of temporal regularity, with each career being characterized by bursts of high-impact works occurring in sequence,” the researchers concluded, per Quartz. “We find this phenomenon to be remarkably universal across diverse domains: hot streaks are ubiquitous yet usually unique across different careers.”

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The streaks were unrelated to productivity

There’s a lot of talk these days about improving productivity for creative professionals through maximizing concentration and limiting distractions. This helps workers get into flow state, as it’s come to be called, which has been found to boost productivity.

Interestingly, this new research on hot streaks did not identify a correlation between productivity and periods of unusual creative success. The team found no detectable change in productivity during hot streaks, despite the fact that the work produced during these periods was exceptional.

How to tap into the magic of a hot streak:  

There are some long held ideas about professional hot streaks that are challenged by this research. For example, there’s the idea that your best work usually occurs when you’re young. This seems not to be the case. Hot streaks were found to occur randomly and at any age. This is great news for older professionals – it’s never too late to come into one of these highly successful time periods in your career.

One possible explanation for the occurrence of these streaks is that success begets success. After you’ve made one big breakthrough, it’s easier to know how to find your way toward others. Also, success often correlates with a boost in confidence, which could help to propel future successes. Additionally, your reputation is improved following a success, and this may help others to recognize talent and excellence in your future work.

These researchers hope to expand the project in years to come in order to include other professionals like musicians, inventors, and even entrepreneurs.

“We know that these domains have different natures,” said Lu Liu, a member of the research team, speaking with Penn State News. “For example, scientists collaborate with each other and artists work alone. If we can find the triggers and drivers behind the universal pattern, that would be much more interesting.”

Tell Us What You Think

Have you experienced a hot streak in your career? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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