Stay on the Bus: The Proven Path to Doing Unique and Meaningful Work, by James Clear
Mastery requires consistency.
That includes ideas like putting in your reps, improving your average speed, and falling in love with boredom. These ideas are critical, but The Helsinki Bus Station Theory helps to clarify and distinguish some important details that often get overlooked.
Does consistency lead to success?
- Consider a college student. They have likely spent more than 10,000 hours in a classroom by this point in their life. Are they an expert at learning every piece of information thrown at them? Not at all. Most of what we hear in class is forgotten shortly thereafter.
- Consider someone who works on a computer each day at work. If you’ve been in your job for years, it is very likely that you have spent more than 10,000 hours writing and responding to emails. Given all of this writing, do you have the skills to write the next great novel? Probably not.
- Consider the average person who goes to the gym each week. Many folks have been doing this for years or even decades. Are they built like elite athletes? Do they possess elite level strength? Unlikely.
The key feature of The Helsinki Bus Station Theory is that it urges you to not simply do more work, but to do more re-work.
It’s Not the Work, It’s the Re-Work
Average college students learn ideas once. The best college students re-learn ideas over and over. Average employees write emails once. Elite novelists re-write chapters again and again. Average fitness enthusiasts mindlessly follow the same workout routine each week. The best athletes actively critique each repetition and constantly improve their technique. It is the revision that matters most.
To continue the bus metaphor, the photographers who get off the bus after a few stops and then hop on a new bus line are still doing work the whole time. They are putting in their 10,000 hours. What they are not doing, however, is re-work. They are so busy jumping from line to line in the hopes of finding a route nobody has ridden before that they don’t invest the time to re-work their old ideas. And this, as The Helsinki Bus Station Theory makes clear, is the key to producing something unique and wonderful.
By staying on the bus, you give yourself time to re-work and revise until you produce something unique, inspiring, and great. It’s only by staying on board that mastery reveals itself. Show up enough times to get the average ideas out of the way and every now and then genius will reveal itself.
Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers popularized The 10,000 Hour Rule, which states that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in a particular field. I think what we often miss is that deliberate practice is revision. If you’re not paying close enough attention to revise, then you’re not being deliberate.
A lot of people put in 10,000 hours. Very few people put in 10,000 hours of revision. The only way to do that is to stay on the bus.