Learning to Sustain Success in Creative Industries: The Enduring Impact of Initial Novelty
Dr. Justin M. Berg
Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Creators who generate hit products enjoy outsize success in creative industries. But too often, creators fail to learn from their initial hits, as their subsequent products lack the audience appeal of their initial hits. In this paper, I develop theory on when and how creators learn to sustain success in creative industries, focusing on how creators’ learning is shaped by the novelty (vs. typicality) of their initial hits. I propose that creators who develop relatively novel initial hits are more likely to learn sustainable capabilities that enhance the audience appeal of their subsequent creations, helping them generate additional hits after their initial one. I tested the proposed theory using two studies: an archival study of 1,601 authors in the U.S. book publishing industry, as well as a complementary experiment to address causality. Results from the archival study showed that book authors with relatively novel initial hits had better subsequent hit rates—a likely indicator of learning—than authors with relatively typical initial hits. In the experiment, participants developed two ideas for television shows, and the novelty and purported success of their first ideas were both manipulated. Participants’ performance improved from their first to second ideas only when their first ideas were novel and (ostensibly) hits with the audience, providing causal evidence that creators learn more effectively from novel than typical initial hits. Whereas prior research suggests that individuals learn best from multiple episodes of success, failure, or both over time, this research suggests that creators who achieve novel initial hits can and do learn from one episode of extreme success.