written by BRICE HOGAN | GROWTH, CREATIVITY
Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a famous photographer who has been taking photos for over 6 decades. His photos are these beautiful black and whites of the human body in different positions in nature.
He gave an interesting commencement speech in 2004 about something called the Helsinki Bus Station Theory (1)
He explains that at the heart of the city there is a bus platform and at the platform, there are a number of buses with different numbers you could jump on.
"Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.
Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.
Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.
You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.
Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done.
So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.
This time you are going to make 8x10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane.
You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8x10 camera views of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?
So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others."
He then poses this question. " What to do?"
"It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus."
He then explains that in time even though you start the route the same, eventually there will be a difference. Too often you want to get off the "bus" and take the cab as a shortcut to possibly better things.
We often don't give things time enough to see that we are actually progressing toward the ultimate goal that we want to start out with. In our minds, the shortcut is faster. However, the time we spend taking the many "shortcuts" we think get us there faster takes longer than just staying on the bus.
It's About Re-Learning
Malcolm Gladwell introduced the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. I would add something to that idea. It's not the 10,000 hours that matter its the re-learning that must take place.
"You can practice shooting 8 hours a day, but if your technique is wrong, then all you become is very good at shooting the wrong way"
- Michael Jordan -
There is often one input for what we learn, and if you rely on just reading a book and putting it down. You could read 100 books and not retain a thing, you could put in 10,000 hours of working out but if you don't retain and learn to adjust. Like Michael said you get good at doing something the wrong way.
We learn from the 3 different outputs reflection, implementation, and teaching or sharing the idea. This process will hardwire the information we need to master.
But if you keep getting off the "bus" or you can't pick the lane you want to be in it's really difficult to master anything.
Staying on the Bus
Is it true that consistency can create success? Yes, but only if you stay on the bus. "We should stay on the bus and commit to the hard work of revisiting, rethinking, and revising our ideas" (2)
Then like Rafael said even though you start at a similar place that everyone else does, (and you may feel like you are doing the same work as someone else had done, or you are experiencing imposter syndrome.)
You will find if you stay on the bus long enough your unique difference will emerge and you become someone that will be compared to others instead of being in their shadow.