Creativity Issue

The Trap of Hollywood Success If You're Creative: Possible Failure

Illustration by Zohar Lazar

UMass Amherst professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., reveals how potential can be expressed at any age — but success sometimes puts a stop to further creative growth.

Mark Zuckerberg has said: “Young people are just smarter.” I don’t agree with Zuckerberg on this one. Instead, I agree with neuroscientists who study brain aging. Not only does the brain continue to grow in key areas involving experience and judgment, but it’s highly plastic. When older adults are tested on perception, they utilize the front part of the brain — used for goal setting, planning, making decisions — to boost the back part of the brain, where vision registers, because they have more experience.

The main limitation isn’t age, but how much creativity you have within you. One theory as developed by UC Davis psychologist Dean Simonton is that we are born with a certain amount of creative potential. If you haven’t expressed it at an earlier age, but have “stuff” brewing beneath the surface and you live long enough and the right opportunity presents itself — then, bang! You will express that creativity and that brilliant idea, even if it’s just one script, one role or one hit. What makes it complicated is that we can’t always control the right opportunity — if you don’t have access to a piano, you won’t be able to express potential to be a concert pianist at any age.

Sometimes the worst fate you can have is to be a prodigy, because anything after that is not going to live up to your initial promise. And labeling yourself as a “genius” can get in the way of going on to do more genius things.

The particular problem in Hollywood is that following success, you can become surrounded by followers who isolate you from the ebb and flow of everyday life, which feeds creativity. One can argue wealth helps creativity because it allows the freedom to “play,” but the problem with wealthy kids is motivation — if they are made to feel too self-satisfied, they will turn out quite ordinary.

Success also can make you narcissistic. Certainly, many creative people are narcissistic, but it can be detrimental; you think, “I am so great,” and stop pushing yourself. People so easily fall into living in a narcissistic bubble, but part of creativity is being able to be somewhat critical and humble. 

This story first appeared in the Jan. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.