Jerry Seinfeld’s 3 Keys to Success (and How Most People Stop After the Second)

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Here’s something really obvious yet also really easy to forget: successful people are successful because they do things differently than other people. They think and believe and operate differently than most other people — and in the process, they achieve differently than most other people.

Here’s another thing that’s really obvious: Jerry Seinfeld is incredibly successful.

In an interview with Scott Feinberg for The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatterpodcast, Seinfeld describes his keys to success — which, not coincidentally, are the three keys to entrepreneurial success… and success in any field.

To Seinfeld, success is based on “work and thought and preparation,” and the following three elements:

1. Inspiration.

You have an idea. You come up with something new, something original, or even just a different take or perspective on a product or service.

“That’s the easiest step,” Seinfeld says. “You get ideas. They just come to you. You can’t create them… you just wake up and your inbox has something in there and you go, ‘Oh, look at that.’”

Of course an idea without action isn’t really an idea, it’s just a dream. So…

2. Execution.

“Execution is pretty obvious,” he says. “You have the idea, now you execute the idea. Is this what you wanted to do? Is this a good version of what that idea was?”

According to Seinfeld, this is where most people stop.

“They have a good idea, they execute the idea, and then they cross their fingers,” he says. “And they really hope that it works, and they have lots of excuses ready for when it doesn’t.”

But then what?

3. Detail.

“The third piece of success in a creative field is detail,” he explains. “Obsessive detail.”

Detail, to Seinfeld, is as important as inspiration and execution; they’re three equal sized pieces of the success puzzle.

“This happens to every comedian every night,” he says. “I have bits, I have jokes, they work, they never miss, it’s a good joke, people like it, every time I say it in this way it always works… but if I just have a slight catch in my throat the middle of one word, just that little thing in the first syllable, it’s gone. It’s gone. The audience is like, ‘What happened? Did he get nervous? Or distracted? Something went wrong.’

“In comedy, jokes are extremely fragile things because they have to be exactly right to work.”

That’s also true in business. Execution is important, but obsessive attention to detail — making sure you get it right, every time, for every customer — is critical. Comedians can’t afford for an otherwise sure-fire joke to fail, just like businesses can’t afford for otherwise reliable processes or products to fail.

Detail is everything.

And that’s even true in a business where creativity is not just appreciated but required.

“If you were a guest star on my show and you came on for a week,” Seinfeld says, “if you missed a word — one word — in the lines that we’ve written for you, you’re going to get a look from me… because that’s the way we executed the series.”

You’re only as good as today, right now, this time… and that’s why detail matters just as much as ideas and execution.

Otherwise how could you not just come up with — but also deliver — something like