Notes & Thoughts

The science of winning at making art

I recently stumbled on the following quote from this book by the American journalist Derek Thompson. It is quite the mouthful, to say the least – naturally I was intrigued:

[The arts and entertainment sector is]… a complex, adaptive, semi-chaotic industry with Bose-Einstein distribution dynamics and Pareto power law characteristics with dual-sided uncertainty. 

A what now?

  • Complex: since everybody is constantly influencing everybody else, predicting the distant-future box office of a movie is like predicting the weather next year.
  • Adaptive: when something hits, others in the genre will copy it, which gives birth to new styles and trends, ie “adaptations.”
  • Semi-chaotic industry with Bose-Einstein distribution dynamics: apparently culture fans are weirdly similar to gas molecules in a jar – they spontaneously cluster (in our case, around artists and trends) in intricately varied ways that are impossible to predict ahead of time.
  • Pareto power law characteristics: success follows a power law distribution, with a lucky few achieving massively more success than everyone else.
  • Dual-sided uncertainty: creators don’t know what fans will want in two years, and fans don’t know what is coming out in two years, let alone what they will want to see at that time.

In short, the quest for recognition is a complex and brutal form of gambling.

Not exactly the stuff of candy-colored dreams, to be sure – but then again we’ve long known that show business is something other than lollipops and rainbows most of the time.