The Seinfeld Lesson
In 1995, Bryan Cranston wasn’t yet the star he would go on to become, but he knew what he was doing. Although the actor had yet to have his big break, he had years of experience playing small roles on some of TV’s biggest shows and was certainly well past his days of amateur dramatics and taking unsolicited advice from strangers and on-lookers.
A year earlier, Cranston had been cast to play a semi-recurring part on Seinfeld. In his role as Jerry’s dentist and Elaine’s love interest, Cranston was given the chance to step into what he would later refer to as a ‘Comedy Bootcamp’. Working with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David allowed him insight into the comedy genius that had created one of the most successful shows of the 90’s, but one of the best pieces of comedic advice he received came from an unlikely source.
Filming had stopped for the day, and Bryan Cranston was spending a little bit of extra time familiarizing himself with the dental instruments that he would have to use in his scene. Whilst playing around with the chair and the tools, he heard a voice telling him that he knew how he could make the scene funnier. Cranston looked up to see the man fixing the lights on the set was about to give him some acting advice. Sceptical, Cranston told the crew member to go ahead and share his idea. The result? One of Seinfeld’s most iconic moments.
Without the crew member’s advice, Cranston would never have taken a hit of the laughing gas before placing the mask on Jerry Seinfeld. The scene would have been less funny, less memorable, and the quirky dentist would have come across as a bit more, well, normal. The scene had to be filmed multiple time’s as Seinfeld struggled to get through without laughing, but at the end of the shoot, Cranston told all involved that the idea had come from a crew member, who, at that very moment, just so happened to be casually leaning against a door frame acting as if he had a thousand great ideas a day.
Companies Don’t Have Ideas. Only People Do.
Now, it’s unlikely that you’re in desperate need of tips on acting and comic timing, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn a lesson from Bryan Cranston and his Seinfeld experience. Great advice can come from an unlikely source, and many of those who understand your business, your customers, and your process the best work in unheralded positions.
The key? Creating an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their great ideas and providing them with a means to do so. It is unlikely that the idea would have ever been shared had the crew member not found himself in a one-on-one situation with Cranston. Just think about how many times your colleagues and employees might bite their tongue because they aren’t sure how well received their idea will be.
In her TED Talk, Margaret Heffernan shared her belief that organizations often run themselves using the wrong model. Instead of focusing on culture and social cohesion, the traditional approach has seen organizations focus on star talents and pitting one employee against another. This method creates a negative environment where knowledge, experience, and ideas cannot be effectively shared.
Adopting an approach where knowledge and ideas are shared and employees are not afraid to ask for help has resulted in SAP claiming that they can answer any internal question within 17 minutes. Creating a culture where employees are comfortable asking for help, asking questions, and sharing their own ideas takes time. The first step? Letting them know that they can and providing them with the means and opportunity to do so.
The history of revolutionary products and services is littered with great ideas coming from unlikely sources. Even the greatest executives and managers recognize that they don’t know or understand every aspect of their own business. The problem that creates is that the decision-makers can often be separated from those who best understand the problem.
Does your company have a system in place that allows frontline employees to share ideas with upper management? For conversations to go directly from the factory floor to the boardroom? If it doesn’t, then there’s a good chance that great ideas are being missed, big problems are being overlooked, and easy solutions aren’t being found.
As Heffernan points out, and as Bryan Cranston can attest, ‘companies don’t have ideas. Only people do’.