A team of researchers examined the works of nearly 30,000 scientists, artists, and filmdirectors to learn if high-impact works in those fields came in streaks.
According to Lu Liu, a member of the research team, they all found a universal pattern.
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"Around 90 per cent of professionals in those industries have at least one hot hand, and some of them have two or even three," she added. Liu feels that there are two previous schools of thought regarding hot streaks in individual careers. According to the "Matthew effect," the more famous you become, the more likely you'll have success later, which supports the existence of a hot streak. The other school of thought -- the random impact rule implies that the success of a career is primarily random and is primarily driven by levels of productivity.
"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," said Liu.
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.
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Through their research, the team analyzed data they collected from a variety of sources. They looked at scientists' most-cited papers from Web of Science and Google Scholar, auction prices for artists, and Internet Movie Database (IMDB) ratings to gauge the popularity of films and their directors. Then, they reconstructed a career path for each individual based on that data.
Liu explained that when the researchers looked at a scientist's highest-impact work through their most-cited papers, its timing was random, as well as the timing of the second-most cited paper. But in looking at the relative timing of these highest-impact works, the researchers found that they are correlated.
"That's how we find a hot streak period. We then analyzed this finding in other creativedomains, like artists and movie directors, to see if there are similar patterns in these careers," said Liu.
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Liu said that there are many cases when the most famous works of an individual came in sequence. She cited Peter Jackson, director of 'The Lord of the Rings' film series; Vincent Van Gogh, whose most famous paintings were completed late in his career; and Albert Einstein, whose four published papers in his miracle year of 1905 contributed significantly to the foundation of modern physics.
Liu said that this could help to understand the innovative process and have the potential to discover and cultivate individuals during a hot streak.
As the research shows that 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. The study appeared in the journal of Nature.