Fame Is Based More On The Company You Keep Than Your Creativity

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Research from Columbia Business School reveals social networks are a more reliable predictor of fame than one’s creativity.

NEW YORKMarch 12, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Many of the world’s most creative people (think Thomas EdisonPablo Picasso, and Steve Jobs) often achieve great fame. But does creativity alone translate into critical acclaim? New research by Paul Ingram, Kravis Professor of Business at Columbia Business School, finds that there’s another factor at play: social networks.

Columbia Business School Logo (PRNewsFoto/Columbia Business School)

In the paper, “Fame as an Illusion of Creativity: Evidence from the Pioneers of Abstract Art,” Ingram and co-author Mitali Banerjee of HEC Paris, examine the link between fame, creativity, and social networks. By focusing on the implications of social ties on the level of fame achieved by 90 pioneering abstract artists (rather than famous scientists, musicians, or filmmakers) the researchers were able to determine how peer relationships facilitate individual-level creative output, rather than team output.

Contrary to conventional literature, Banerjee and Ingram found that there was no statistical support for the relationship between an artist’s creativity and the fame they ultimately achieved. Neither an expert measure of creativity, nor a computational measure of an artist’s novelty, calculated through machine learning, mediated the relationship between an artist’s local network structure and their fame.

Furthermore, the researchers found that those individuals who possessed a diverse set of personal friends and professional contacts from different industries were statistically more likely to become famous. Those who had influential networks that overlapped or were more homogenous were, on the other hand, less likely to achieve wide-reaching fame.

For more information, please read the two-page research brief (PDF) compiled by Columbia Business School’s Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business.

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