A great quote from Brian Eno about the conservative force that comes from previous success:
I’m afraid to say that admirers can be a tremendous force for conservatism, for consolidation. Of course it’s really wonderful to be acclaimed for things you’ve done – in fact it’s the only serious reward, because it makes you think “it worked! I’m not isolated!” or something like that, and it makes you feel gratefully connected to your own culture.
But on the other hand, there’s a tremendously strong pressure to repeat yourself, to do more of that thing we all liked so much. I can’t do that – I don’t have the enthusiasm to push through projects that seem familiar to me ( – this isn’t so much a question of artistic nobility or high ideals: I just get too bloody bored), but at the same time I do feel guilt for ‘deserting my audience’ by not doing the things they apparently wanted. I’d rather not feel this guilt, actually, so I avoid finding out about situations that could cause it.
The problem is that people nearly always prefer what I was doing a few years earlier – this has always been true. The other problem is that so, often, do I! Discovering things is clumsy and sporadic, and the results don’t at first compare well with the glossy and lauded works of the past. You have to keep reminding yourself that they went through that as well, otherwise they become frighteningly accomplished.
That’s another problem with being made to think about your own past – you forget its genesis and start to feel useless awe towards your earlier self: “How did I do it? Wherever did these ideas come from?”. Now, the workaday everyday now, always looks relatively less glamorous than the rose-tinted then (except for those magic hours when your finger is right on the pulse, and those times only happen when you’ve abandoned the lifeline of your own history).
Similar forces operate within science, although it’s not so much from admirers as peers. Institutions want their scientists to get grants; grant agencies want scientists with a “track record”, and the natural outcome is a lot of people doing stuff that’s only marginally different from what they’ve done before, with a concentration in fashionable areas.