Jerry Seinfeld’s Method for Writing Jokes Changed My Life — Here’s How
“Groundbreaking innovators generate and execute far more ideas.”
— Frans Johansson
There is a tension that I have noticed in achievers. This tension involves what is more important: the idea or the execution of the idea.
Some argue that the idea is more important. Execution cannot occur without an idea first.
Others argue that the idea does not matter as much. A poorly executed idea is practically worthless. But a good idea executed well is priceless — and rare.
I am not writing to settle this debate. But I will state this: you cannot execute an idea that you do not have.
I often wonder how great writers, artists, and creatives can be so prolific. One of my law school professors has written dozens of books, articles, and scholarly papers. Another friend of mine has written multiple books on top of running successful businesses. And then I think of writers that I know of, who write one or sometimes two books a year. Others produce even more.
How do these creators produce great content? How do they generate the ideas that allow them to become so prolific?
How to Unlock the Value in an Idea
“The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”
— Alfred North Whitehead
I often speak in front of audiences about the benefits of intellectual property. One of the first questions I ask is this: who owns an idea?
The answer, surprisingly, is that no one owns an idea. That is, until the idea is written down. Then someone can own the document that contains and explains the idea. An idea that is not captured, however, is worthless. An idea has no value until it is written down.
Accordingly, we must capture our thoughts to give them value. As we collect and capture our ideas, we can begin to make them valuable.
I have learned that the quantity of my ideas does not matter as much as the quantity of ideas that I capture does. To me, capture means writing an idea down in a way that allows me to reference it later.
How Jerry Seinfeld Captures Ideas
“The ability to organize your thoughts is the most important skill of all.”
— Robert Greene
One of the best examples I have ever heard about capturing ideas is from Jerry Seinfeld.
I once heard Mr. Seinfeld tell a fascinating story about how he writes jokes. He does not view himself as the best comedian of all time, but he does believe that he has developed a method to collect his thoughts that allows him to write jokes better than most people. Every time he thinks of something funny, he writes it down and saves it in an accordion folder. He started doing this in 1975 and has never stopped.
During the Netflix special, Jerry Before Seinfeld, he actually shows the audience some of the collected pieces of paper and the actual accordion folder. Similar to Jerry Seinfeld, if you start collecting your thoughts now, you will have an incredible treasure trove in a few years.
During the day, I try to write down any thoughts that I want to capture. Often, I write down ideas for articles or books. Other times, I write down thoughts or feelings that fascinate me. I even collect funny stories, pictures, and jokes. You never know when you will need an idea — a written idea — on short notice.
Jerry Seinfeld’s method reveals at least part of the answer to how some people can be so much more prolific than the rest of us.
- Imagine if you just wrote down one idea a day.
- Imagine if you wrote down everything you laughed at each day.
- Imagine if you wrote down each idea that crosses your mind.
Not every idea will be good. But some of them will be.
If we capture every idea that we have, then we can be sure to not lose any that might have value.
I have enjoyed reading about how Robert Greene and Ryan Holiday have similar methods of capturing ideas in their book research.
Ideas do not have value unless they are captured.
And if we can organize those ideas, whether in a physical folder or by some other method, then we can capitalize on them when we need them.
Do as Jerry Seinfeld does: collect ideas as if your career and professional life depend on it.
For most of us, they do.