- Scientists uncover the secret of ‘hot streak’ in the long careers of industry stalwarts
- Experts say it ‘exploits’ after combining ‘exploration’
- Exploration is studying diverse styles and exploitation focuses on narrow areas
- The technique worked for artists such as Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, as well as film directors including Peter Jackson.
Whether an artist, scientist, or film director, trailblazers often have critically acclaimed ‘hot streaks’ in particular fields, where they produce a series of outstanding works in short succession.
Now, scientists at Northwestern University in Illinois claim to pinpoint the secret formula that often triggers a pioneer’s best work.
Using a form of artificial intelligence (AI) called deep learning, they mined data belonging to thousands of actors, film directors and scientists to identify a magical formula for success.
They claim that hot streaks are directly the result of years of ‘exploration’ (study of different genres or disciplines), immediately followed by years of ‘exploitation’ (focusing on a narrow area to develop deep expertise), they claim.
They define a hot streak as an explosion of high-impact works clustered together in close succession – as achieved by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock or by film directors such as Peter Jackson or Alfred Hitchcock. Is.
‘Starry Night’ (1889) by Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. Researchers painted van Gogh’s ‘hot streak’ between 1888 and 1890
The researchers used algorithms for image recognition from 800,000 visual arts images collected from museums and galleries, covering the career histories of 2,128 artists, including Vincent van Gogh. This key map visualizes the key pixels the model used to predict van Gogh’s post-Impressionism art style
Researchers see career ‘hot streaks’
– Vincent van Gogh (1888 to 1890)
– Jackson Pollock (1947 to 1950)
– Alfred Hitchcock (1958 to 1963)
– Peter Jackson (2001 to 2003)
– John B. Fenn (1985 to 2002)
The new study was carried out by researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois.
‘Neither exploration nor exploitation alone is associated with a hot streak in isolation. This is their sequence together,’ explained study leader Dashun Wang.
‘Although exploration is considered a risk because it may lead nowhere, it increases the chances of stumbling upon a great idea.
In contrast, exploitation is generally seen as a conservative strategy. If you exploit the same type of work over and over for a long time, it can stifle creativity.
‘But, interestingly, exploration shows a consistent association with the onset of post-exploitation hot streaks.’
As an example in the art world, researchers point to 20th-century American abstract artist Jackson Pollock, known for his ‘drip technique’, which involves dripping paint or pouring it onto canvas.
But before developing his famous drip technique, Pollock worked in portraits, prints, and surrealist paintings of humans, animals, and nature.
‘Reflection of the Big Dipper’ (Paint on Canvas, 1947) by Jackson Pollock, an influential American painter known for his unique style of drip painting.
But before developing his famous drip technique, Pollock worked in portraits, prints, and surrealist paintings of humans, animals, and nature. Pollock is pictured at his Springs studio in East Hampton, New York State on August 23, 1953
According to the study authors, a period of ‘exploration’ followed by ‘exploitation’ of their new drip technology set Pollock up for a ‘hot streak’.
In Pollock’s case, it was a three-year period from 1947 to 1950, during which he created all of his dripping, shattered works that he is still famous for today.
The principle doesn’t just apply to artists. For example, New Zealand film director Peter Jackson hit a hot streak while making The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was released between 2001 and 2003.
However, prior to his hot streak, Jackson appeared in a variety of films, including biographies and horror-comedies – none of which were quite successful.
A gallery assistant poses in front of a painting titled ‘Mural, 1943’ by Jackson Pollock at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on September 20, 2016
Meanwhile, in the sciences, American chemist John Fenn made a career quite late in life.
During his hot streak, Fenn focused intensely on electrospray ionization, which eventually won him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002 at the age of 85.
‘Prior to his hot streak, Fenn worked on many different subjects, from stimulation to dimmers on hot surfaces,’ explain the study authors.
For the new study, Wang’s team used algorithms for image recognition from 800,000 visual arts images collected from museums and galleries, covering the career histories of 2,128 artists, including Pollock and van Gogh.
For film directors, the team collected data sets from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which included 79,000 films from 4,337 directors, including Peter Jackson and Hungarian Marta Meszaros.
For the scientists, the team analyzed the career histories of 20,040 scientists by combining publication and citation datasets from the Web of Science and Google Scholar.
Peter Jackson (left) directs Sir Ian McKellen during the production of ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)
Wang and his colleagues quantified a hot streak within each career based on the impact of works as measured by auction price, IMDb ratings and academic paper citations.
Then, they correlated the timing of the hot streaks with each person’s creative trajectory.
Looking at Hot Streak’s careers four years before and after, researchers examined how each person’s job changed…