The Equal Odds Rule – Is Creativity Just a Numbers Game?

The Equal Odds Rule feature

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Today we are talking about the Equal Odds Rule. An interesting theory that we think can easily be applied to creative work. Helping you to both improve in your journey as a creative, while also maximizing your chances of breaking out and getting noticed.

What is the Equal Odds Rule?

The equal odds rule is a theory that was developed by Harvard-trained psychologist Keith Simonton in his 1977 paper Creative productivity, age, and stress: a biographical time-series analysis of 10 classical composers”.

The Equal Odds Rule says 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

What this means is that scientists that end up publishing things of significance have done so along with a long list of other work. Work that has gone unnoticed. This means that the success that they struck upon relies on that mass of work. Every publication had equal odds of success, so publishing more increases your chances.

How Does the Equal Odds Rule Apply to Creative Work?

So how does this rule apply to creative work? Quite simply actually, publications much like creative work are based on an idea or theory that a scientist may have. The scientist will work on it for a while, then go on to share this work with their peers and other onlookers. The same is true for all creative work.

The key similarity between the two areas is that you have no idea how things will be received until you put them out there. That’s where the equal odds rule comes in to tell us to make more things.

Every work you create has an equal opportunity to be the thing that strikes a chord, of gets picked up in a viral moment. The latter is even more dramatic with eyes being guided so heavily by internet algorithms. 

A larger volume of work also has another effect. We have all experienced that moment when we almost randomly make something truly inspired and fantastic. Creating more work will lead you to stumble upon these moments of greatness, and with a little thought you’ll be able to increase the frequency of these moments.

How to use the Equal Odds Rule to Your Advantage

Now that you have the gist of the rule down. Here are few more concrete ways that you can implement it to get the best results in your own life.

Create Regularly

Anyone who wants to make a living from creative work or simply to get better should  be creating regularly. This is the crux of this idea. The more things you create, the more chances there are for people to stumble across something that you have made.

We are big fans of setting a schedule for work to be done. Saying to yourself, “I’m going to write a blog post every week”, can be a really powerful way of training yourself to create things on a regular basis. Some may wait for inspiration before they start work, but professionals create, rain or shine. Even if you end up throwing out what you work on on any particular day. You made the effort, which is the whole point. 

This process will also train a couple of very useful skills. Getting back on the horse and starting. Getting back on the horse in the sense that you will inevitably fail to meet your schedule at one point or another. The real test is whether you can get back to it. A lot of the time without a streak to keep up the motivation to create just isn’t there. 

Starting is an underrated skill to develop. Starting is the hardest part of any endeavor. Sitting down to practise your scales, picking up a brush, or opening a word document. Oftentimes this is the hurdle that you must overcome, beyond which the doing is actually easy. If you are creating regularly, then you will have loads of chances to practice starting.

Don’t Let Perfection Get in the Way of Finished

Creative people are often really picky when it comes to their own work. That’s what makes it so good! But sometimes this can also be a barrier to progress. 

If we are to implement the equal odds rule, then we need to be making lots of work. This means the perfect is a distraction that you should avoid.

In programming there is something known as the Nintey-ninety rule that states “the first 90 percent of code accounts for the 90 percent of development time. The remaining 10 percent of code accounts for the other 90 percent of development time”.

This is intended as a wry joke, pointing out the tendency of development projects to significantly overrun their schedules. The same can however be said of a perfectionist. I can’t tell you where the line is, but you will have to get used to deciding when something is finished.

When faced with the choice of taking something from 99% to 100% perfect, or publishing at 99% and taking something new from 0 to 50% in the same amount of time. The choice should be clear. 

Put your Best Foot Forward

When reading about the equal odds rule it’s quite easy to go away thinking that you just have to make a ton of things, and all will be well. But it is important to remember that this isn’t about going for quantity over quality. The things you create still have to be good. This is about being aware that more things mean that there are more avenues for you to hit on something that really resonates with people.

Everyone has their own definition of good, it’s important to make sure that everything you put out meets your personal standard. Don’t get pulled into the trap of perfection, but remember that everything you make could be a person’s first experience of your work. We want to make sure to leave them with a good first impression.

Learn From the Things That Work

Last but not least it’s important to take a breather every now and then, and take stock. Making it a point to look at any measurable metric you have on hand that can tell you about how your work is being received. View counts, likes, shares, and comments are a good indication of how well certain work is resonating with your viewership. From here you can take a look at what’s working and what isn’t.

This is a great way of using a feedback loop to improve your work. Sometimes this process can take a creative away from what they really want to do. In a setting where you are trying to make a living from creative work, you just have to kind of go with what’s working. Sorry. In time when you are more established and people come to your work for you, you will have more freedom to do the things that you find creatively fulfilling. 

If you’re in it just for the fun, then this process is much more introspective. Take a look at the things that you have created. What did you like, what didn’t work so well. Just do more of the first group. Pretty simple really.`


Conclusion

We think that the equal odds rule is a really powerful way of thinking about how one can go about making creative work. There is no time to sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes you just have to play the numbers.

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