What Should You Do When You Think You’re Making No Progress?

helsinki-bus-station-theory.png

Monday, 9.11pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The most interesting thing about a postage stamp is the persistence with which it sticks to its job. – Napoleon Hill

Over the last few days I’ve been re-looking at what I look at, gravitating towards creators of a different sort.

Creators like Campbell Walker, also known as Struthless and, at this point, I’m not sure how to describe what he does.

But he has some very useful pointers for people trying to be creative – one of which is do the same thing every day.

Perhaps I’ll come back to that another day.

Today, however, he introduced me to the Helsinki Bus Station model, which was created by the Finnish-American photographer Arno Minkkinen.

How do you develop your unique creative style – what differentiates you from everyone else?

It’s a question you can ask anyone – from an artist to a lawyer to an entrepreneur.

Differentiation is everything – it’s why someone will choose to work with you rather than anyone else.

One way of being unique is just to be unique – act differently, talk differently, dress differently – and you will be different.

On the outside, anyway.

When you see that kind of uniqueness – what you’re actually seeing is people trying very hard to be different in a particular way.

What they’re actually doing is classifying themselves in a style taxonomy – and by putting two classifications together to create a mixed one – they believe they’ve created something unique.

The thing is – how you dress and how you act and how you speak will help you with people for a while – but eventually they’ll want you to actually do something useful for them to stay interested.

This is not something limited to people who believe that clothes make the person.

Anyone who says that what differentiates them is their “expertise” has the same problem understanding the basic question being posed.

Experts are a dime a dozen.

Being an expert doesn’t make you unique – it doesn’t mean you add value.

The other thing differentiation is not about is the creative genius, the larger than life figure.

It’s not the story of the people you see with the fame and the billions – that story is not replicable and depends on place and history and above all luck – luck to be in the right place and luck to have the opportunity to prepare so that you are ready when you’re in the right place.

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Minkkinen points to the Helsinki bus station to provide a model.

At this station all the buses head out in the same direction at the start.

Whichever bus you get on you will find yourself, for a while, going in the same direction as everyone else.

You might look at people in the bus in front, people in the bus to the side and people behind – and they’re all doing the same thing, heading the same way – only slightly ahead, or slightly behind you.

And you might feel that there is no point to this – you might as well get off and go back to the station and take another bus.

And then again you find yourself going the same way as everyone else.

The thing you have to realise is that something happens if you stay on your bus.

After some time the buses start going in different directions – going to different places.

You might start your career in law school, and go through the process of qualifying.

You might start to work in a practice with other lawyers, doing general busy work.

You might move and start to work more on divorce cases.

Eventually, you specialise in divorce settlements involving couples with different nationalities that own property in several European jurisdictions and you end up with a quite distinctive and fairly unique experience.

You become the go-to lawyer for that kind of case.

The Helsinki Bus Station theory effectively says that the early stages of your journey are really all about getting started – about getting a feel for your field and developing a portfolio of work.

It’s by working and making that you start to figure out what you’re interested in – and then you start to build on that understanding to deepen your skills in that area.

Over time that develops into a way of working and a set of outcomes that are different from the people around you – you’ve started to create your own style.

There will be people who like what you do, people who don’t like what you do and people who are on the fence.

You focus everything you do for the people who like what you do and those on the fence.

The rest don’t matter – not when it comes to your work and output anyway.

I like this theory – it stops you from giving up and going back to the start every time.

It promises that if you carry on you’ll end up somewhere interesting, somewhere where you’ll be glad you went.

Somewhere where you will find that you are now unique and have a style and can differentiate yourself from everyone.

And to do this, you only have to do one very simple thing.

Stay on the bus.

Cheers,

Karthik Suresh

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