Sometimes it can feel impossible to get on a creative hot streak. If only there was a way to trick ourselves into one!
“…these results suggest that neither exploration nor exploitation alone is associated
with the hot streak dynamics; rather, it is the shift from exploration to exploitation that
closely traces the onset of a hot streak….[E]xploration…increases one’s chances
to stumble upon new, potentially groundbreaking ideas; the subsequent exploitation
behavior allows the individual to focus, develop knowledge and capabilities
in that focal area, and build out their discoveries further.” ~”Understanding the Onset of Hot Streaks across Artistic, Cultural, and Scientific Careers“
Have you ever landed squarely upon your groove, fully in a state of flow, with ideas popping and creative expression and execution on fire? When we catch a creative hot streak by the tail, there is no feeling quite like it. Our spirits are lifted by thousands of unseen balloons, rising up from our toes through the tops of our heads, like champagne bubbles finding flight in a flute.
In those moments, we would swear we could fly.
For most of us, we feel as if we are on a never-ending hunt—chasing the elusive magic of a hot streak, changing up our work locations, tools, approaches, and mindsets in order to drink from its elite chalice.
The chase can be exhausting, depleting, demoralizing.
Researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University have recently published their findings on what coaxes hot streaks to the fore—and the results are fascinating. After studying the histories of artists, scientists, and film directors, the researchers were able to recognize patterns to what precedes these strands of repeated, creative successes.
The Keys to Getting on a Creative Hot Streak
The news gets even better! The phases of behavior that take people to a hot streak are the same regardless of your field, level of experience, or expertise. We can seed these streaks with intentional behavior at any time.
The keys are simple.
Phase one is to first engage in a prolonged period of exploration, engaged in experimentation that is right at or just beyond our edges of comfort and competency. This is a time of filling our soul’s windshields with vistas that are novel, pushing our belief systems, and stretching our thinking into different directions.
We breathe in inspiration from playfully trying on diverse perspectives and approaches. Every day, we lean toward the ocean of possibility and scoop up buckets of ideas out of the layered stew, exploding with flavor.
We give our ideas a go, seeing how they move and turn in the wind of our hypothesis testing.
We take note of what works, what fills us with joy, what takes our voyage toward desire shores.
This is generally a time of more quiet reflection and play, working solo or with a smaller team. Little or no distractions fuel the power of this phase.
Exploration to Exploitation
Phase two involves taking our findings from our experimentation and begin a stage of what the researchers call exploitation. This is a time of deep, focused work. In this stage, we bring all the tendrils in from our exploration phase and weave them together in innovative ways.
We harvest every fruit from the exploration phase and build out its promising findings, bringing us to the nexus of optimum creativity and accomplished work. That is, we converge the bellows of our ideation and playing around, and land on a creative hot streak.
Researchers noted we have to have both phases in order to prompt a hot streak to the fore. In my experience, my clients and I tend to want to skip or rush through that very crucial exploration phase. Just get to the work already.
Let’s choose to steady ourselves and breathe into the spacious and truly joyful phase of experimenting and soak in the influences from a variety of sources that infuse us and our work with texture, color, and spirit.
These research findings say to me that we should embrace being a “hot mess”, letting ourselves not know. We should cast aside certainty and control, with an experimenter’s heart, adventuring into areas that are totally unfamiliar to us, across wide spectrums of topics, fields, media.
If we surrender into our hot messiness, we have a much better chance of landing in the middle of a hot streak.
A Hot Streak Exercise
To ground this information into our behavior, let’s try the following exercise:
1) Get out your journal. Mind map where you can blow the doors off of stale thinking and behavior in your life and business. Where do you intuit the chains of sameness/staleness have you shackled?
2) Brainstorm 5 ways you can breathe new life into your rituals and daily work by adding in much more free rein and experimentation. Too many noises/voices in your midst? Get quiet in solitude.
3) Take a look at your mind map and choose one strategy to live for one week. Take notes during the week as to what you are noticing as you explore and experiment. What is happening to your thinking?
4) Take an insight gleaned from your weeklong experiment and now go deep. Focus, focus, focus and work the idea like taffy. Pull it into new shapes, look at it from different perspectives and bring in team members to help you flesh it out, bring it to life.
5) Test your prototype and iterate upon it.
For those of us who tend to cling like koala bears to control and precision (effectively choking off the oxygen from our creativity), this 1-2 methodology of divergence/convergence, playing widely first and focusing and distilling second, gives us new ground on which to stand. New life in our chance-taking.
This way of being takes the rich influences we have consciously brought into our minds and souls, transmutes them into complex perfumes of us, and aerosolizes them into the world.