When we watch colleagues get on a roll and produce hit after hit, we may watch from the sidelines wondering exactly how they did it. A new paper published in Nature explained some of the science behind career hot streaks, which the researchers defined as “a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially better than his or her typical performance.”
Hot streaks are random
Dashun Wang and his colleagues analyzed the career histories of about 30,000 individual artists, film directors, and scientists and used popular metrics of success like auction prices of artwork, the IMDB.com film ratings, and the number of publication citations to determine a worker on a hot streak. They found that hot streaks usually happen for around four to five years. The good news is that if you have not had your hot streak yet, it could still happen because the timing of hot streaks is random.
“If the hot streak occurs randomly within a career, and the highest impact works are statistically more likely to appear within a hot streak, then the timing of the highest impact works is also random,” the study concluded.
Productivity did not affect the likelihood of a person catching a hot streak, suggesting that popular success can be completely random. One thing that is for sure: to get on a career hot streak, you have to keep producing work. You cannot catch a hot streak if you are not working towards one.
“Although older people are less likely to produce breakthroughs than their younger counterparts, this isn’t because age and creativity are intertwined,” Wang said. “It’s simply because not enough people keep plugging along late in their careers. If we keep producing, our own hot streak may still be ahead, just out of sight.”