Scientists discover we really do have periods of repeated success

Winning streaks ARE real! Scientists discover we really do have random periods of repeated success throughout our working lives

  • Winning streaks at work start out-of-the-blue, with no clear trigger
  • These can last for several years, but more than one during a career is rare
  • Artists have a longer period of sustained success than film directors or scientists
  • Directors are least likely to experience more than one run of increased success
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Winning streaks are real and occur without warning, scientists have found.

People do experience a run of success far beyond anything they have achieved so far in their career, the latest research has revealed.

These so-called hot steaks occur once in a career and typically last around five years.

Until now, it was believed people hit their peak towards the middle of their careers, but the latest evidence suggests a hot streak can kickstart at random – something that thousands of football fans will be willing to happen ahead of the World Cup final in Russia this weekend.

According to scientists, the increased prosperity triggered by these winning streaks leads to more success, propagating a period of good fortune and fuelling a career. 

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Scientists have finally proved that periods of increased success at work are real, and you never know when one might arrive. These winning streaks crop up randomly and can not be predicted, but often last for several years (Pictured: England Captain Harry Kane)

Researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University looked over the careers of scientists, film directors and artists.

The researchers studied – and judged – the careers of 3,480 individual artists, 6,233 film directors and 20,040 scientists to gauge the success of their working life.

Based on the prices artists’ works commanded at auction, directors’ ratings on website IMDB and scientists’ citations in academic journals, they found almost everyone had a hot streak. 

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Dr Dashun Wang, a co-author of the study from Northwestern University, said: ‘If we know where your best work is, then we know very well where your second-best work is, and your third, because they’re just around the corner.’

Confidence may be part of the reason why people have a run of hits, with Dr Wang adding: ‘If I produced a good work, I feel like I learned the trick. Now I feel like I’m equipped to do another work that’s just as good or even better.’

Until now, it was thought the likelihood of a winning streak increased with hard work.

However, the Northwestern University study found no link between a person’s productivity and their career success.  

The study authors explain: ‘Individuals show no detectable change in productivity during hot streaks, despite the fact that their outputs in this period are significantly better than the median, suggesting that there is an endogenous shift in individual creativity when the hot streak occurs.

‘The hot streak occurs randomly within a career.’

The existence of hot streaks was confirmed by scientists comparing the time-points of people’s two most successful work, to find they were roughly 50 per cent more likely to appear back to back than expected by chance.

Dr Wang said his hope for the future had been ‘doubled’ by the fact that almost everyone gets a run of success. This was the case for nine in 10 scientists, 91 per cent of artists and 88 per cent of directors.

Artists ride their purple patch for 5.7 years before returning to their previous level of success, film directors experience a shorter peak of 5.2 years and scientist have the smallest window, with just 3.7 years at the top of their game (stock)


In a leaked email to his Tesla employees, Elon Musk revealed tips for staff to avoid wasting their time.

His advice incorporates ditching company rules, leaving large meetings and even going above your boss to get to the person ‘doing the actual work.’

Here are Elon Musk’s top tips for boosting productivity at work:  

1. Get rid of big meetings

‘Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get [out] of all large meetings.’

2. Avoid having too many meetings

‘Get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.’

3. Leave a meeting if you’re not contributing

‘Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.’ 

4. Avoid acronyms and jargon

‘Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication.’  

5.Cut out the middle-man (your boss), if needs be  

‘Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the ‘chain of command.’

6.Don’t follow rules, follow logic 

‘In general, always pick common sense as your guide. 

‘If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.’

According to the study, winning streaks typically last for a period of years. 

Artists ride their high for around 5.7 years, before returning to their previous level of success, while film directors experience a shorter peak of 5.2 years.

Scientists have the smallest window — with just 3.7 years at the top of their game.

Winning streaks are unlikely to happen twice in the same career, based on the findings from careers dating back to the 15th century.

Of all the professions examined in the study, film directors were the least likely to get a second run of success, the study found.

‘Among those who had a hot streak, 64 per cent of artists, 80 per cent of directors, and 68 per cent of scientists were best captured by one hot streak only,’ the authors wrote in their paper, published today in the journal Nature.   

‘Second acts may occur but are less likely, particularly for film directors.

‘Occurrences of more than two hot streaks are rare across all careers.’

The associate professor of management said there is no telling when someone’s hot streak will come, with chemist John Fenn winning a Nobel Prize for his work on mass spectrometry in his eighties.

He added: ‘If you keep producing, maybe your biggest work is yet to come.’


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