Near misses and future success

From Marginal Revolution:

Setbacks are an integral part of a scientific career, yet little is known about whether an early-career setback may augment or hamper an individual’s future career impact. Here we examine junior scientists applying for U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grants. By focusing on grant proposals that fell just below and just above the funding threshold, we compare “near-miss” with “near-win” individuals to examine longer-term career outcomes. Our analyses reveal that an early-career near miss has powerful, opposing effects. On one hand, it significantly increases attrition, with one near miss predicting more than a 10% chance of disappearing permanently from the NIH system. Yet, despite an early setback, individuals with near misses systematically outperformed those with near wins in the longer run, as their publications in the next ten years garnered substantially higher impact. We further find that this performance advantage seems to go beyond a screening mechanism, whereby a more selected fraction of near-miss applicants remained than the near winners, suggesting that early-career setback appears to cause a performance improvement among those who persevere. Overall, the findings are consistent with the concept that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Whereas science is often viewed as a setting where early success begets future success, our findings unveil an intimate yet previously unknown relationship where early-career setback can become a marker for future achievement, which may have broad implications for identifying, training and nurturing junior scientists whose career will have lasting impact.

https://arxiv.org/abs/1903.06958

I think this goes for the arts as well. Early setbacks drive some to give up and others to work harder or look inward or improve. I’ve seen early successes be quite damaging, especially when the success is undeserved.

But how do you know whether you’ve had a near miss or a complete, not-even-close miss?

For a city to have a thriving arts scene

From Peak California:

For a city to have a thriving arts scene, you need some combination of:

1. Families or nightlife, both of which produce demand for reasonably educated workers who work non-traditional or variable-schedule jobs, either as babysitters or bartenders.

2. Cheap neighborhoods that aren’t unsafe. My current neighborhood, Williamsburg, fit this role ten years ago.

3. Upside, either in the form of selling out or marrying someone with a boring but lucrative job.

Re-entry problems

More from Lost in the Cosmos:

But what is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week. What did Doestoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table. What does the reader do after finishing either book? How long does his exaltation last?

He gives several (slightly tongue-in-cheek) options, including suicide, sex, and alcohol. But also, travel or moving:

The self leaves home because home has been evacuated, not bombed out, but emptied out by the self itself. That is, home, family, neighborhood, and town have been engulfed by the vacuole of self, ingested and rendered excreta. What writer can stay in Oak Park, Illinois? One leaves for another place, but soon it too is ingested and digested.

Yeah, thinking of leaving myself.

Escaping the predicament of the self

The difference between Einstein and Kafka, both sons of middle-class middle-European families, both of whom found life in the ordinary world intolerably dreary:

Einstein escaped the world by science, that is, by transcending not only the world but the Cosmos itself.

Kafka also escaped his predicament–occasionally–not by science but by art, that is, by seeing and naming what had heretofore been unspeakable, the predicament of the self in the modern world.

— Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos

I didn’t love this book, which I found through Austin Kleon, but I did love the chapter on escaping the self and re-entry problems.

The pushing sort of person

“There is in New York tonight a black woman molding clay by herself in a little bare room, because there is not a single school of sculpture in New York where she is welcome. Surely there are doors she might burst through, but when God makes a sculptor He does not always make the pushing sort of person who beats his way through doors thrust in his face. This girl is working her hands off to get out of this country so that she can get some sort of training.”

“Criteria of Negro Art” by W.E.B. Du Bois, via Kottke.org.

Who is making films?

Is it the most talented or those with the most to say?

Or is it the pushing sort of person who beats his or her way through doors?

There’s a lot of good to be done by encouraging and helping the non-pushing sorts of people (with something to say) to get going and generate some forward motion.

Screenwriting as a professional fascination

Screenwriting, as a professional fascination, is built on desires for personal approval that can be as fruitless and full of wish-thinking as gambling-addiction. Screenwriting is not filmmaking, it’s a part of filmmaking, it’s one of the blueprints, but it is not a good litmus test for the quality of a movie, clearly; Studios sign huge checks to great screenplays to then receive the worst Rotten Tomatoes scores in history. The Thunder Road Screenplay received multiple 3/10 ratings on The Blacklist. Yesterday, The Academy’s screenplay library reached out to have it added to their collection. The screenplay for Dunkirk is 70 pages. The only thing (Academy Award Winning Screenwriter) Diablo Cody knew about screenwriting when she wrote Juno was that “the dialogue is in the middle.” It’s ok to suck at writing screenplays if you know what will make a great movie and if you want to understand how people engage with movies in 2018, don’t study the script for Seabiscuit, get a Reddit Account like a normal person.

Jim Cummings

Shout it from the rooftops!

I really like what Jim has to say about independent filmmaking. It’s refreshing and intelligent.

Steal a bit from a lot of different places

The secret of theft, which is also called “creativity,” is you have to steal a bit from a lot of different places. You can’t go to the same 7/11 every time because they’ll catch you. So you go to the photo shop, and you go to the gas station, and you go to that little hot dog stand that nobody goes to and by the end you’ve stolen enough stuff from enough places that people think its yours.

— Paul Schrader

Via Austin Kleon.

The worst sin a filmmaker can make

This morning I went to a cafe to work on the script. The directing part of the script. I read through my old notes on Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, an excellent book on directing. The main thesis of the book is that every movie has a theme, a central principle, truth, or message.

That theme guides all other choices. Once you have that theme, it’s easier to make your decisions and answer questions.

I spent about three hours thinking through the theme and how I want the camera to move and what do to with framing, the key moments of the film, the tone, and the rhythm. The rhythm is so important to me and I’ve learned from experience not to leave this to the editing room because there’s only so much you can do with cutting.

The movie is dialogue-heavy so it needs to feel in motion and to move forward at all times, so as not to get stuck in the single location.

And I leafed through my dog-eared copy of Werner Herzog’s book, A Guide for the Perplexedwhich I love dearly.

When he’s not talking about being shot in the stomach or bamboozling border agents, he says things like:

The best advice I can offer to those heading into the world of film is not to wait for the system to finance your projects and for others to decide your fate. If you can’t afford to make a million-dollar film, raise $10,000 and produce it yourself.

Guess that one stuck.

This should be a lesson to filmmakers today with inexpensive digital technology at their disposal. You need only a good story and guts to make a film, the sense that it absolutely has to be made.

And

I learnt that the worst sin a filmmaker can commit is to bore his audience and fail to captivate from the very first moment.

And of course because why not

I tried things out with various pigs during pre-production, but none of them became altitude sick.

Paxton, IL

Drove down to Paxton, IL today to see about a house to make a movie in.

There’s a real joy to this part of making a movie, getting out and meeting people that welcome you into their home and are excited about helping you and then taking for hours about how the house isn’t perfect but it will work and now we can relax because of the 3 possible disasters that might derail this thing, one at least has a workable situation and if it all works out then we get to spend 2 weeks in a quaint town with good summer air with good people and the chance at at a transcendent shared experience.

And then we found this burger joint across the train tracks with a menu that I thought was a joke but it was real and the burgers were $1.20 and fries were 80 cents.

And sometimes I hate how flat IL is but then I think of that DFW line that goes:

Very old land. Look around you. The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

Which is a very good line, to my ears at least, and I don’t know where I’m going with this except that there’s a real joy in doing things that are overwhelmingly difficult and it brings out emotions and fears and pleasures that I never knew I had, like when you do a new exercise and you get sore in muscles that you never noticed before.

Good night and look up Just Hamburgers if you’re ever in Paxton.

Instead of planning your career…

I’m reading through Pmarca’s guide to career planning on this lazy Sunday back home. Excellent throughout and way too much to quote, but some bits that ring especially clear:

The second rule of career planning: Instead of planning your career, focus on developing skills and pursuing opportunities.

I’ll talk a lot about skills development in the next post. But for the rest of this post, I’m going to focus in on the nature of opportunities.

Opportunities are key. I would argue that opportunities fall loosely into two buckets: those that present themselves to you, and those that you go out and create. Both will be hugely important to your career.

Opportunities that present themselves to you are the consequence — at least partially — of being in the right place at the right time. They tend to present themselves when you’re not expecting it — and often when you are engaged in other activities that would seem to preclude you from pursuing them. And they come and go quickly — if you don’t jump all over an opportunity, someone else generally will and it will vanish.

I believe a huge part of what people would like to refer to as “career planning” is being continuously alert to opportunities that present themselves to you spontaneously, when you happen to be in the right place at the right time.

And..

Optimize at all times for being in the most dynamic and exciting pond you can find. That is where the great opportunities can be found.

And…

Colin Powell says, “You know you’re a good leader when people follow you, if only out of curiosity.”





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