The thin line between consistency and success
I have been reading and writing about mastery and how it requires consistency. Ideas like falling in love with boredom as explained clearly by Robert Green in the 50th Law – are ways to boost mastery. Putting in your reps, improving your reading speed, Learning a new programming language, writing frequently. There is a thin line between consistency and success.
These ideas are critical which leads to the questions,
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.
No matter what kind of work you do, you probably have a desire to do things differently and make your mark on the world. If you’re not careful, however, you can get caught up in trying to innovate and never actually get anywhere.
This is 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.
“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. What to do? It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus. Because if you do, in time, you will begin to see a difference.”
– helsinki bus station theory
It’s Not the Work, It’s the Consistency
Average school 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. The best programmers always re-write their code and continually practice new techniques.
To continue the Helsinki 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.
You have to be consistent and push through the ideas we are trying to execute. You cant give up and start all over, the journey is the destination.
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.
Does Consistency Lead to Success?
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.
Which Bus Will You Ride?
We are all creators in some capacity. The manager who fights for a new initiative. The accountant who creates a faster process for managing tax returns. The nurse who thinks up a better way of managing her patients. And, of course, the writer, the designer, the painter, and the musician laboring to share their work out to the world. They are all creators.
Any creator who tries to move society forward will experience failure. Too often, we respond to these failures by calling a cab and getting on another bus line. Maybe the ride will be smoother over there. We move to another line of business , we change relationships easily because one is not working.
Instead, we should stay on the bus and commit to the hard work of revisiting, rethinking, and revising our ideas.
In order to do that, however, you must answer the toughest decision of all. Which bus will you ride? What story do you want to tell with your life? What craft do you want to spend your years revising and improving?
How do you know the right answer? You don’t. Nobody knows the best bus, but if you want to fulfill your potential you must choose one. This is one of the central tensions of life. It’s your choice, but you must choose.
And once you do, stay on the bus.