Stay on the Bus!
Arno Rafael Minkkinen gave a commencement speech1 to the 2004 graduation class at the New England School of Photography. During his talk, he covered what is now called The Helsinki Bus Station Theory.
Minkkinen being from the hometown of Helsinki, Finland, gave an account of the bus station that runs at the city’s core. Each bus takes the same path from the city station for roughly a kilometer. Along the way, there are bus stops. In Minkkinen’s metaphor, each bus stop symbolizes a year of work, and different buses represent different creative routes.
At the start, all buses begin a parallel journey, and as a creative, work begins as synonymous with others. People might say, “This looks like X’s work.” or “This reminds me of the artist Y.” In frustration, you get off at the next bus stop and take a cab back to the station to take another, different bus—starting a new creative route.
But, just like before, you begin to notice that your work has similarities to others. What’s the deal? Every route you go, you don’t diverge in a creative direction.
Minkkinen’s solution is simple:
“Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus. Because if you do, in time, you will begin to see a difference.”
As I mentioned earlier, the buses out of Helsinki stay on the same line for only a portion of the route. However, once out of the city, their paths begin to diverge. One bus goes north, one goes south, and the others travel unique pathways across the land.
“It’s the separation that makes all the difference,” Minkkinen said. In other words, patience and continuing your work will lead to that breakthrough.
You might be several stops on a bus now. If so, stay on.
You might be at the station. If so, pick one and stay on.