5 Creativity Lessons From Jerry Seinfeld

How To Be The Master Of Your Domain

Jerry Seinfeld’s Creativity Secrets

On December 08, 2020, something special took place.

In a far corner of the Internet, two of my favourite people sat down to talk.

Comedy Legend Jerry Seinfeld appeared on the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast; and it was excellent. 

The interview was full of ideas and insights about Jerry’s creative process and general approach to life.

The lessons were so good, I had to write them down.

Here, you’ll find my biggest takeaways from the interview, specifically about Jerry’s approach to writing and creativity.

I hope you find them as valuable as I did.


(Note: I originally posted all of my takeaways in a Twitter thread but I thought I would compile the best ones into this essay. If you’d like to check out the full thread with many more of the takeaways, you can do so here: https://twitter.com/MarkShpuntov/status/1340526577113845760 )

Lesson #1: Treat Everything Like An Experiment

Stand up comedy is a science:

You have a hypothesis. You run an experiment. The audience provides feedback. You analyze the data. You adjust accordingly and you try again.

All creative pursuits are like this.

If you are a writer, a video creator, or a photographer, your job is to come up with a hypothesis, run the experiment, and then listen to your audience’s feedback.

More often than not, the things you put out into the world will completely miss the mark.

That’s normal.

In fact, that’s the whole point.

Gather your feedback, analyze it, revise your material, and send it back out into the world.

Eventually, you’ll start getting more hits than misses.

The basic process for creativity, and life in general, is:

Try -> Fail -> Learn -> Adjust -> Try Again.

Lesson #2: Talent Must Be Tamed

Being born with the gift of talent is like being gifted a powerful horse: you have to learn how to ride it, or it will kill you.

If you don’t learn how to manage, harness, and maximize your natural talents, they will be wasted.

As Jerry would say: You must be the master of your domain.

This is where applying systems, routines, and good-old discipline come in.

Your talent means nothing unless you learn how to make the most of it.

The work of a creator is similar to the work of an athlete; it’s all about putting in the reps and mastering your craft.

It’s about taking the raw material of talent, and shaping it into something that’s much bigger.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” — Stephen King

Lesson #3: Accept Your Mediocrity

A perfect follow-up to the previous point: No one is born great.

If you see someone who is truly a master of their craft, they did not get there by accident; they got there through spending a tremendous amount of hours training, practicing, and learning.

While I do think that we are all born with different talents and abilities, I also believe that we can improve just about anything with enough focused effort over a long enough period of time.

In order to succeed at anything, we must believe that we can change, grow, and improve.

A Growth Mindset is mandatory for success.

Guess what? You probably won’t be very good when you start something new. Well, congratulations. You’re human like the rest of us.

But, the good news is that once you accept your humble beginnings, you can then get on with the real work of practicing and slowly getting better.

One of my favourite ideas from Seth Godin is that quantity will lead to quality.

You say you’re a bad photographer? Show me your 1,000 bad photographs.

The point is that it’s hard to do anything 1,000 times and not end up getting better.

So what should you do?

Start now, wherever you are, and know that the only way to get better at anything is through massive amounts of practice and repetition.

Lesson #4: The Two Phases Of Creating

Creative work comes in 2 separate phases:

1. The free-play, creative phase.
2. The polish and construction phase.

During the creative phase, you need to treat yourself like a baby: give yourself plenty of love, nurture, and support. At this stage, you want to be kind and encouraging to yourself. Creating is hard work. Be kind to yourself.

But, when you reach the polish and editing phase, you must become hyper-critical. At this stage, you need to be absolutely ruthless. This is where you give shape and polish your creation into something beautiful. Apply enough pressure, and you will turn coals into diamonds.

It’s important that you separate the two phases.

A common mistake every writer is familiar with is trying to edit while you write. This suffocates and kills your creativity. Avoid engaging your critical mind when you are attempting to access your creativity.

The solution is to separate the creative process into two distinct phases: A creative, judgement-free phase. And a ruthless editing and polish phase.

The truth is that nobody gets it right on the first try. It doesn’t matter how talented, or how experienced, a creator is; the first draft is always bad.

Good writers understand that good writing is really good editing.

So when you write, write. And when you edit, edit.

Don’t mix the two.

Lesson #5: The Creativity Lie

There is a myth going around that creating is easy. 

We look at writers, dancers, painters, photographers, and think to ourselves we should be able to do it too. After all, it doesn’t look that hard when they do it.

This is a lie, and it’s harming your creativity.

Creating something from nothing is one of the most difficult things a person can do.

We need to give the creative process the respect it deserves.

You see, if we expect creating to be easy, we are going to be in for a big shock when try it and realize just how hard it actually is.

We’re going to start doubting ourselves and our ability, we are going to get discouraged, and we are going to quit.

It’s easy to think that if this was something we were meant to do, and had the natural talent for it, that it would come easily to us.

But that is just wrong.

The truth is that creating is difficult for everyone, because the act of creation itself is incredibly difficult.

For any creative endeavour, we must always remind ourselves that what we’re about to do is one of the most difficult things a person can do.

We, as creatives, must develop the skill of being kind and encouraging to ourselves.

Because the truth is that we deserve it.

If you enjoyed this summary, you’ll love the full 90 minute podcast episode here: https://tim.blog/2020/12/08/jerry-seinfeld/

If you’re short on time, you can find all my takeaways in my full Twitter thread here: https://twitter.com/MarkShpuntov/status/1340526577113845760

Here are just some of the other goodies you’ll discover:

1. What book helped Jerry transform his health and fitness
2. What is the connection between creativity and depression 
3. How to turn your hard work into a game so you enjoy doing it
4. Why you should treat your brain like a dog
5. What is the one question that drives all innovation
5. What are the two things Jerry believes can positively transform anybody’s life
6. Why Jerry never shares his work with anyone for at least 24 hours

Discover these lessons, along with many, many more, in the full Podcast Episode or Twitter Thread.

Thank you all for reading! I hope you found these ideas and insights as valuable as I did.

Until next time,

Mark Shpuntov

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