February 22, 2016

How Persistence & the 'Equal Odds Rule' Can Give You a New Perspective on Creativity

Is there any way to predict success? What about creative success? Some argue that the main variable is talent, while others insist that practice makes perfect. 

A relatively obscure theory, though, known as the Equal Odds Rule, suggests that there is no way to predict success, and if that's the case, then the only thing to do is get busy. Really, really busy.

In the video above, musician Jonathan Mann describes how he has written a song a day for over 2,000 days. Were all of those songs winners? Hardly. But, he wrote them, and sitting down to write, or perform any kind of activity (especially creative activities, where the rules and measures of quality are far less cut and dried than in other fields) is certainly going to be better for your creative endeavors than not sitting down and creating.

Developed in 1977 by Keith Simonton, The Equal Odds Rule states that, "the average publication of any particular scientist does not have any statistically different chance of having more of an impact than any other scientist’s average publication.” Change a few words and, at its most reductive, this means that if a (for example) filmmaker sets out on a new project, there is really no guarantee that the film will have any positive impact (or any impact at all); it's all a numbers game. The Equal Odds Rule states that the only way to win is to produce, and odds are, not everything you produce will be good (or even passable). But to produce on a near industrial-level means that the pernicious myth of the lazy genius is just that; a myth.

Perhaps what looks like laziness is really just the result of years and years of unrelenting work, work that includes a long period of apprenticeship. But practice is part of production, and a prerequisite to any successful work, whether it's a scientific paper or a screenplay. Now, of course, some people are more talented than others, and I will probably never play center for the Knicks. (Probably. I haven't heard back yet.)

Every time we produce something that fails, we succeed; we know a little more than we did the day before about what works and what doesn't, and we're also putting ourselves out there as artists. Work begets work, and success begets success. But, in the words of blogger and writer Myke Cole, "You have to learn to love the effort divorced from the result."

In the film world, one would be hard pressed to find a more prolific talent than Woody Allen, who has directed more films than some people have seen (roughly one a year for several decades), working in almost every genre possible. Of his legendary productivity, Allen has said, "I like to work...It distracts me from brooding or anxiety."  

"I'm always thinking of what would make a good story. The toughest part is raising the money...But thinking of ideas, writing films, that's not so hard for me. That's what I do, that's the one thing I can do, walk around and cook up stories." -Woody Allen

In his excellent book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, author of several novels, one of which became the film The Legend of Bagger Vance, describes the greatest enemy to production. He calls it Resistance, and uses the term as a catch-all for every form of procrastination, hesitation, and excuse-making in the book. And it doesn't only apply to art; according to Pressfield, everything that keeps you from your work is resistance, whether it's a bad habit, a rationalization, a physical or emotional block. Anything that keeps you from your work is your enemy. 

The only way to produce enough work to make the Equal Odds Rule work for you is to stop letting anything get in the way of your work. Long story short: put your butt in the chair. Stay there. Work. It's the only way you'll ever get close to the level of skill needed to succeed, to say nothing of the heights of whatever mountain you want to climb. (You'll never reach the top, though; if you did, it would stop being fun.) All this "rule" means is that there is no certainty. And that's as it should be. Life is tough. Why should art be easy?       

Your Comment

6 Comments

Really good. Thanks for this post. As creatives I know we all get bogged down with resistance and internal war against ourselves.

I'm ready to go!

February 22, 2016 at 2:40AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
202

I'm not convinced by this. Like, at all.

February 22, 2016 at 4:37AM

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David R. Falzarano
Director / Writer / Editor
747

Will just doing stuff help elevate or just add to the noise? When you film things over and over you get familiar with the equipment so you are more capable, but if you get locked into repeating things - just cause you feel obliged to - it can deaden the strongest emotions and impulses. There are those, Baudelaire comes to mind, that really didn't produce a lot but thought about things, experienced things and had something unique to contribute at the end of the day.

February 22, 2016 at 11:35AM, Edited February 22, 11:35AM

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David Barrington
Videographer
111

Nofilmschool is a rationalized procrastination

February 22, 2016 at 1:05PM

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You could make 100 films and the 1st might be your best, or the 100th might be your best, but would you stop making films if the first was your best and made you loads of cash? If the answer is yes then you're not a filmmaker really. It really truly is about the act of making things, not about the result. If you don't love (and at times, hate) the process then why bother at all?

We all procrastinate unfortunately, and we all fear the commitment of big, challenging projects. Maybe we shouldn't though, because you've only got one life and all that.

February 22, 2016 at 4:08PM

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Liam Martin
Writer, director, editor.
318

Quantity isnt always a good thing. You have to make sure every time you practice your art form you do it seriously enough to learn from it. Its not about "just go out with your friends and shoot and shoot and edit and shoot until you understand." Its actually more like "Write a script and do full pre-production and go through all the motions of producing a film. And by the end of that long process, you will have learned a lot." I dont know how much writing a song day teaches you, especially after a while. Spend some time really thinking about what youre doing, its hard to learn anything if you dont really care what the result looks like.

February 24, 2016 at 2:09PM, Edited February 24, 2:09PM

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Wyatt E Otero
Owner Promotional and Branding Production Comp.
141