Mastering Brilliance: Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Secret’ Formula for Sustained Excellence Revealed

Jerry Seinfeld's 'Secret' Formula
Jerry Seinfeld's 'Secret' Formula

Surely, Jerry Seinfeld knows the field. His stand-up career spans almost 50 years. Seinfeld has added billions to the syndication revenue in the Comedy Central region. As of today, Jerry’s piece, if you can call it that, is somewhere in the north of $800 million. Yet, money is just one barometer of success: he turned down a $100 million offer to continue the show for another famous year because he felt the show was running its course.

As Jerry Seinfeld puts it, ‘Success is inherent in the work.’ ‘It’s for me: the solitude and integrity, for making a small thing better.’

Successful people, no matter how they choose to define success, succeed because they approach work differently from others. They think, they believe, and they work differently — and find success in doing so.

Three examples:


In an interview with Scott Feinberg for The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, Jerry Seinfeld outlined the keys to his success, which incidentally are applicable to business success and success in any field.

According to Seinfeld, success is built on ‘work and thought and preparation,’ and it relies on the following three elements:

  1. Inspiration: You have an idea. Something new, something original, or just a different perspective on a product or service.

Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘This is the easiest step. Ideas come to you. They just come to you. You can’t create them. You’re walking along, and you have your box, and you go, ‘Oh, look at that.”

Certainly, an actionable idea is not just a thought; it’s only a dream.

  1. Execution: ‘Execution is very clear,’ they say. ‘You have an idea; now you execute that idea. Is this what you wanted to do? Is this the good version of this idea?’

According to Seinfeld, this is where most people get stuck.

‘They have a good idea; they put that idea into action, and then they cross their fingers,’ he says. ‘And they really hope it works, and when it doesn’t, they have lots of excuses.’

  1. Detail: ‘The third part of success in the creative field is detail,’ they say. ‘Obsessive detail.’ For Jerry Seinfeld, detail is as important as inspiration and execution. Look at the three equal-sized pieces of the puzzle of success.

‘It happens every night with every comedian,’ they say. ‘I have my bits, I have my jokes, they work, they never fail, it’s a good joke, people like it, whenever I say it this way, it always works… But if a little bit gets caught in my throat between one word and the next, that little thing, that’s gone. That’s gone. The audience goes, ‘What happened? Did he get nervous? Or worried? Something went wrong.’

‘In comedy, jokes are very delicate things because they have to be exactly right to work.’

This is true in business too. While execution is crucial, paying obsessive attention to detail — ensuring that you are getting it right every time, for every customer — is important. Just as a comedian cannot sustain failure with another certain joke, businesses cannot sustain failure with reliable actions or products in the same way.

Detail is everything.

And this is true in a business where creative abilities are not only praised but required.

Jerry Seinfeld says, ‘If you were a guest star on my show and you came for a week, if you blew even one line — one line — of these lines we wrote for you, you’re out… because we ended the series like that.’

You’re just as good as today, now, this time… and that’s why detail is as important as ideas and execution.

More Actions

Humorists need material — lots and lots of material. They can’t do the same thing year after year. They need a constant stream of new jokes, new perspectives, new stories. While performance is the ultimate output, humorists who cannot write constantly have nothing to show for it.

Initially, before he had even five good minutes of material, Jerry Seinfeld felt that a better comedian had to write better jokes. And the only way to write better jokes was to write every day.

Wait for inspiration? No, wait for lightning to strike? No, he had to write every day. (It sounds simple, but it’s the surefire path to excellence.)

So he found a big calendar, hung it in a place he couldn’t ignore, and committed to checking off the box every day he wrote at least one new joke.

As Jerry Seinfeld told Brad Isaac:

Choose a specific goal. Decide which one thing — which one, fundamental thing — will make the most significant difference in achieving that goal if you do it every day, and then commit to checking off that box on your calendar.

In a few days, you’ll start accepting your small successes. Within weeks, you won’t even be able to imagine doing things differently. One day you’ll see it and feel that you’re very close to where you hope to be one day — because success comes day by day with consistent work.

Mind Set

Here, in the documentary film Jerry Seinfeld’s Field of Comedy, unfolds a story: a comedian’s tale. Stand-up comedians and friends, Adam and Seinfeld, are perplexed if they’re wasting their time after achieving their stand-up dreams.

“It seems as if you’ve arrived at a juncture where you’re questioning, “How much more can I endure?'” says Adam. “I see my friends making a lot of money… they’re moving forward.”

“Are they going up?” Jerry Seinfeld asks. “There’s no connection with your friends in this (stand-up comedy) business,” Seinfeld adds, dismissing the notion.

“Yeah, but what about your parents?” Adam inquires.

Jerry Seinfeld explains, “It’s something special. It’s unrelated to the concept of ‘making.'”

“Alright,” Adam concedes. “But have you ever stopped, assessed your life, and thought, ‘I’m 29, all my friends are married with kids, they have homes, they have some sense of normalcy…'”

Jerry Seinfeld interrupts, “Okay,” and pauses for a moment. “Allow me to share a tale,” he persists. “This is my favorite show business story.”

Certainly, everyone’s definition of success is different. For many, a home and a family top the list. But for others, it’s not. Maybe not yet. Or maybe never. And that’s okay.

Most of the time, you should consider what others think, but not when it stands in the way of living the life you truly want to lead.

For example, if you want to start a business (something you can do in just a few hours), but fear people will say you’re crazy, do it anyway. If you want to adopt different formulas for balancing work life against others’ expectations, do it anyway. If you want to accomplish something as foolish as 100,000 push-ups in a year, go for it.

Choose something you haven’t tried because you’re concerned about what others might think or say, and do it. It’s your life. Live it your way.

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