Cal Newport of Study Hacks (also author of the fantastic book, ‘Deep Work‘) highlighted a fantastic quote by Jerry Seinfeld where he explains the real key to the success, polished finish and longevity of the show Seinfeld, which ran for 9 seasons, produced $3.1 billion in revenue and is still- 20 years after the show ended -a huge comedy hit in 2018:
“Let me tell you why my tv series in the 90s was so good, besides just an inordinate amount of just pure good fortune. In most tv series, 50 percent of the time is spent working on the show, 50 percent of the time is spent dealing with personality, political, and hierarchical issues of making something. We spent 99 percent of our time writing. Me and Larry [David]. The two of us. The door was closed. It’s closed. Somebody calls. We’re not taking the call. We were gonna make this thing funny. That’s why the show was good.”
Cal explores this concept of extended periods of concentration and focus as the main raw ingredient of creativity and insight in his book Deep Work.
His thoughts about how modern organizations and society overall values the products of ‘deep work’ and yet do nothing to foster it, sometimes even working against it, is best explained through his ‘Attention Capital Theory‘:
In modern knowledge work, the primary capital resource is human brains; or, more specifically, these brains’ ability to create new value through sustained attention. At the moment, most individuals and organizations are terrible at optimizing this resource, prioritizing instead the convenience and flexibility of persistent, unstructured messaging (e.g., email and IM). I predict that as this sector evolves, we’ll get better at optimizing attention capital, and accordingly leave behind our current culture of communication overload.
For me, what’s interesting about Seinfeld’s quote and this attention capital theory is how so much of all this is down to simple prioritization.
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David prioritized the writing, and the majority of their time, creativity and ‘mind share’ was devoted to the writing; making it as funny, tight and sharp as possible. I picture them repeatedly scrapping pages of ‘pretty good’ ideas and jokes because they were too ‘meh’, and they only wanted gold! You can’t prioritize and execute like that with a 45 minute deadline looming, or constant distractions in the form of phone calls, slack messages and FB messenger pings. You can only work like that when you prioritize the work over the other things, enough that you close the door on the rest and don’t open it until it’s done.