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The Helsinki Bus Station theory

How understanding the workings of a Finnish bus station can help you achieve greater success when it comes to being creative.

Photo by Tom Brunberg on Unsplash


At a 2004 graduation speech by Finnish-American photographer Arno Minkkinen, he suggested that understanding the workings of Helsinki Bus Station would change your life.

Yes, that's right. A bus station. In Finland.


Here's a picture of it (at Rautatientori).


And here's Arno (below).


That all seems clear, so I don't think there's anything I can add.


Oh alright then - I'll explain.

Arno Rafael Minkkinen

This particular bus station has 24 platforms, from which different bus routes depart. I know - radical, right? That's not even the best bit. Each bus line runs along the same route for about a kilometre out of Helsinki.


Okay, so this is going to be a metaphor, obviously.


Minkkinen illustrates his idea by seeing each bus stop on the route as representative of one year in most creative people's journey. Here he uses the example of a photographer:



"So you've been working for three years, making...studies of nudes. Call it bus #21. You take those three years of work...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."

Minkkinen suggests that what most people do is go along their chosen route for a while, but then they get distracted or disheartened because they feel like the route they're on doesn't take them anywhere new or original (where they thought they were going).


"Shocked, you realise that what you have been doing for three years (is what) 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."

Minkkinen's answer to this dilemma is simple:


"Stay on the bus. Stay on the fucking bus."

Because much like bus journeys out of Helsinki, those who 'stay on board' with their own journey ultimately find that their destination diverges from others at a certain point, eventually becoming more interesting and original. They come to discover that they are on their own path and are creating their own work.


You can read Minkkinen's full speech here: http://www.fotocommunity.com/info/Helsinki_Bus_Station_Theory


It's similar to a piece of insight offered by Lawrence Kasdan - writer of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and several of the recent Star Wars films (amongst many other movies).


Kasdan started writing in the 1970s, when he first penned the script to The Bodyguard - the 1992 Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner hit that wasn't made until nearly 2 decades later. He wrote a load of other scripts before getting the call from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas to write Raiders of the Lost Ark.


Kasdan says that along the way, all the time he was getting nowhere, he knew of plenty of writers who he believed were far more talented. But they never succeeded, and he did. The reason?


"I just kept going."

Check out Lawrence in this great interview about how he stayed on the bus, and much more besides.

At 72, he's still writing, while the contemporaries he refers to gave up a long time ago, on a bus journey far, far away.


Maybe this isn't exactly an 'instant' trick to give you a new idea.


But if you know in your heart that resilience and patience are what's needed for any creative journey, you can relax and shake off the anxieties that might stop you being creative in the first place.


Just stay on the creative bus. And see where it takes you.



Image credits:

Helsinki image by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplash

John Ramspott from Oxford, GA, USA, Arno Rafael Minkkinen (5518465419) (cropped) , CC BY 2.0

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