The Five Steps to Getting Better at Anything

Jerry Seinfeld is an immensely successful comedian. He has achieved fame and fortune through his skill at making funny observations about everyday things. An Inc. magazine article asks him why he still works so hard and receives a simple yet powerful answer. There are some familiar themes and lessons here that should resonate with lean thinkers.

Focus on the Process, Not the Results

One of the first lessons of lean thinking is that good processes deliver good results. What’s more, managing for results often causes people to cheat, take shortcuts, or manipulate the process in ways that are costly long term. Organizations that aren’t committed to building capability both in terms of processes and people are unlikely to enjoy good results long term.

“I like money,” Jerry says, “but it’s never been about the money.” For Seinfeld, his success is due in part because of his love of the process. “I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.”

And about the process.

Practice Everyday

One of the insights that influenced Seinfeld is when he learned that by practicing a craft, a skill, or a sport a lot, “you literally become a broadband: the nerve pathway in your brain contains a lot more information. As soon as you stop practicing, the pathway begins shrinking back down.” The rare modern usage of the word literally is notable; repeated practice does indeed strengthen neural pathways, increasing our capacity to transmit information through our bodies and minds, i.e. perform.

This was life-changing for Seinfeld. From wondering, ‘Why am I doing these sets, getting on a stage? Don’t I know how to do this already?’ he realized the power and importance of consistent practice. “You must keep doing it. The broadband starts to narrow the moment you stop.”

Seinfeld gained a fortunate insight early in his career; the only way to become a better comedian is to write better jokes, and the only way to write better jokes is to write every day. He used a form of visual management to mark a red X over the date on a large calendar for every day that he wrote a joke. He focused on doing this one thing every day. For Seinfeld, this chain of Xs was both visual encouragement and a reminder, “Your only job is to not break the chain.”

The Five-Step Process to Getting Better at Anything

Borrowing from Jerry Seinfeld, and from many others who have achieved success through this approach, here are the five steps to getting better at anything.

1. Take a long-term perspective. Few things that are worth achieving get done quickly. Even things that seem easy present unexpected challenges. Toyota famously likens their commitment to consistent, daily practice as the difference between how a tortoise and hare approach the race. Over a short race, the hare wins. Over a longer race, the tortoise does.

2. Set a goal

3. Figure out the processes that will move you towards the goal. In the case of becoming a successful comedian, this is a combination of having good jokes to tell, being good at telling jokes, finding opportunities to get on stage, being good at working the audience, and so forth.

4. Identify one thing you can do daily with consistency. In Jerry’s case, he could hardly do 10 minutes of standup in front of an audience each day, every day, for years. But he found he could keep his bandwidth strong by writing a joke a day. Finding this “one thing” that we can commit to may be the hardest step.

5. Practice daily

Whether it’s the physical conditioning of an athlete, the humility and curiosity of leaders, or the ability to deliver fresh jokes, building bandwidth helps us make the most of our opportunities. When faced with good luck, or the random variation in our favor, we are practiced and ready to strike. When it’s the opposite, bandwidth builds resilience to bounce back from failure and return to daily practice.

 

4 Comments

  1. Srinivasan Raghavan

    June 29, 2021 - 12:42 am
    Reply

    The continuous concentration in the process, automatically enhances the maintainability and consistency in the results. This evidently contribute to the overall efficiency in achieving the set goals. Good Article

  2. Ramesh Raju

    July 8, 2021 - 10:16 am
    Reply

    Jon Miller another superb article. Simple yet powerful approach. Practice is pivotal to develop any skill. Starting this steps to oneself is the important part to experience the improvements process then to see the results just follow as a by-product of the process.

    • Jon Miller

      July 8, 2021 - 11:18 am
      Reply

      Thanks Ramesh

  3. Aristides Muhate

    July 19, 2021 - 12:45 am
    Reply

    I liked it

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