What Causes a Creative Hot Streak? A New Study Found That It Often Involves These Two Habits

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (Green Silver) ca. 1949. Collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, gift, Sylvia and Joseph Slifka, 2004, ©2018 the Pollock-Krasner Foundation

Is there a magic formula that can lead an artist to a “hot steak” of creativity? There just might be, says a new study from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

The secret involves experimenting with a wide range of subjects, styles, and techniques before perfecting a specific area of one’s craft—what the authors describe as a mix of exploration and exploitation.

“Although exploration is considered a risk because it might not lead anywhere, it increases the likelihood of stumbling upon a great idea,” the study’s lead author, Dashun Wang, said in a statement. “By contrast, exploitation is typically viewed as a conservative strategy. If you exploit the same type of work over and over for a long period of time, it might stifle creativity. But, interestingly, exploration followed by exploitation appears to show consistent associations with the onset of hot streaks.”

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