Persistence is undervalued

Almost two decades ago, a young filmmaker landed on the scene with a movie that became a big deal, winning awards, and making princely sums at the box office. But after that debut, as many critics and fans would agree, every movie he made was worse than the one before it.

Was this creative genius just a one hit wonder? Was that spark of creativity as good as it was going to get?

I know a lot of people feel that way. They may have had a surge of creativity when they were younger. Some idea, some project, some business had some legs. But the follow-ups struggle and fail to reach that same point. They feel like they’ve run out of gas.

A year ago Brian Lucas and Loran Nordgren, professors at Northwestern University, performed a collection of studies on creativity. In one experiment, they gave participants 10 minutes to come up with as many creative ideas as they could. Then, they surprised the participants with an extra 10 minutes to finish completing the task. Before the additional 10 minutes began, they also asked, “How many extra ideas will you come up with?”

People underestimated how many new ideas they would come up with during the extra 10 minutes. And not just a little. On average, they came up with 66% more ideas than they predicted they would. What’s even more interesting: the ideas that came from the persisted effort were even more creative than ones generated during their first effort.

People undervalue persistence. You’ve been told since you were a kid stories of trains getting up mountains with the power of persistence. Get up. Try again. And again. It feels like the most cliche advice there ever was: I think I can.

But still, we underestimate how beneficial that extra effort becomes.

1999 was a huge year for our filmaker. His movie was nominated for awards at all the major award ceremonies, winning a handful. Through 2005 he made more movies that received warm attention, but never like his debut.

And his Metacritic scores (a number 0–100 aggregating top critics’ reviews) kept sliding.

But he kept going.

From 2006 through 2013 he went through the longest string of awards for “Worst Director”, “Worst Movie”, “Worst Screenplay” I’ve ever seen. Winning Raspberry after Raspberry.

But he kept going.

In 2015, a TV show he produced got some attention. In 2016, a new movie of his got glowing reviews. And now in 2017, his latest movie has hit theaters, and it has the highest metacritic score his movies have ever accrued, which includes… The Sixth Sense.

M. Night Shyamalan has gone from winner to loser and back to winner again. One of the most creative filmmakers has just travelled through an extremely rough patch of failures. Look up “One hit wonder M. Night Shyamalan” on Google. He’s listed over and over again by people who clearly gave up on the guy.

Except for M. Night. It took almost a decade of trials before connecting with audiences and critics again on the level he produced with his movie in 1999. But the persistence is paying off. He clearly has more in the tank. It’s when we think we’re done, that the best in us gets started.

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