Hot Streaks

Hot Streaks in Artists, Cultural, and Scientific Careers


Abstract: The hot streak, loosely defined as winning begets more winnings, highlights a specific period during which an individual’s performance is substantially higher than her typical performance. While widely debated in sports, gambling, and financial markets over the past several decades, little is known if hot streaks apply to individual careers. Here, build- ing on rich literature on lifecycle of creativity we collected large-scale career histories of individual artists, movie directors and scientists, tracing the artworks, movies, and scientific publications they produced. We find that, across all three domains, hit works within a ca- reer show a high degree of temporal regularity, each career being characterized by bursts of high-impact works occurring in sequence. We demonstrate that these observations can be explained by a simple hot-streak model we developed, allowing us to probe quantitatively the hot streak phenomenon governing individual careers, which we find to be remarkably universal across diverse domains we analyzed: Hot streaks are ubiquitous yet unique across different careers. The hot streak emerges randomly within an individual’s sequence of works, is temporally localized, and is unassociated with any detectable change in productivity. We show that, since works produced during hot streaks garner significantly more impact, the uncovered hot streaks fundamentally drive the collective impact of an individual, ignoring which leads us to systematically over- or under-estimate the future impact of a career. These results not only deepen our quantitative understanding of patterns governing individual inge- nuity and success, they may also have implications for predicting and nurturing individuals with lasting impact.


We compiled three large-scale datasets of individual careers across three major domains involving human creativity:

  • D1 consists of auction records curated from online auction databases for 3,480 artists.
  • D2 contains profiles of 6,233 movie directors recorded in the IMDB database.
  • D3 includes publication records of 20,040 individual scientists that combined the Web of Science and Google Scholar datasets.
  • The data and the core code to analyze the bursts of elevated performance are available for download.