What Seinfeld Can Teach Us about Business
Seinfeld is the fount of wisdom for all things animal, mineral or vegetable. Turning our eye to the business lessons taught in the television series will reveal every conceivable formula, recipe, model, strategy and technique for failure one could possibly imagine. Let’s have a look.
Sales and Customer Service
- “And you want to be my latex salesman.” Lesson: Lying face down on the floor with your pants around your ankles is a poor posture for a sales candidate during an interview.
- “NO SOUP FOR YOU.” The Soup Nazi’s militant enforcement of customer discipline produces operational efficiencies – for a while. Lesson: Treat customers nicely or they will steal secrets out of your armoire.
- Beyond B.O. A valet’s supernaturally foul body odor destroys Jerry’s car, and more. Lesson: Bathe before going to work.
- “You still say hello!” Uncle Leo gets bent out of shape when he doesn’t get a friendly greeting. Lesson: Give customers a friendly greeting.
- “The washer fluid is NOT fine!” Auto mechanic Tony carries his passion for car maintenance too far, resulting in grand theft auto and an alienated customer. Lesson: Perfection is not the perfect business strategy.
- “Yeah. $37.50 for a Three Musketeers.” If you’re operating a Real Peterman Reality Bus Tour, make sure you’re a real Peterman. If you own a mom and pop store, make sure you’re a mom or pop. If you’re selling nonfat yogurt, don’t put fat in it. Lesson: Truth in advertising keeps Rudy Giuliani off your back.
- Parking garages and prostitution don’t mix. Lesson: Approach mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances with care.
- Kramer sells his stories to Peterman and lives to regret it – as does Peterman. Lesson: Inauthentic marketing is ineffective marketing.
- “But my feet … my feet are resilient. Thank God I took off my heels and put on my Himalayan walking shoes!” Elaine demolishes her writer’s block by drawing from her personal experience. Lesson: Write from the heart.
- Debilitating problems arise for Elaine, Jerry, Newman and Kramer when exclamation points are used haphazardly. Lesson: Attention to detail is critical for successful business communication.
“Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison and the Smelly Car Valet. Take note of how persistent the Seinfeld crew is in pursuit of innovation:
- Adults-only dental practice
- Cinnamon babka
- Jimmy’s training shoes
- Make your own pie
- Muffin tops
- Napping under the desk
- The astronaut pen
- The Beach
- The belly button voice
- The Bro
- The butter shave
- The coffee table book about coffee tables
- The Executive raincoat
- The Kramerica oil tanker bladder system
- The puffy shirt
- The reverse peephole
- The umbrella twirl
- The Urban Sombrero
Consider how often they came up empty, before finally hitting the jackpot with a show about nothing. Lesson: Relentless pursuit of innovation leads to nothing.
Faulty products and services wreak havoc on Seinfeld characters, causing everything from financial loss to indigestion to death:
- A defective radar detector
- A hair with a cake around it
- A hot dog from the Silent Era at the Alex Theater
- A label maker that doesn’t make labels stick to the box
- A sniffing accountant (“What kind of snow blower did you get us mixed up with?”)
- A sweater with a red dot
- A used wheelchair
- Babu Bhatt, inept restaurateur
- Chinese hair restoration cream
- Exploding Magic Pan crepes
- Horrible haircuts from Enzo
- Slippery Pete, a less-than-certified electrician
- The rat hat
- The Willard
- Wedding invitations with toxic adhesive
Lesson: High quality is essential. Without it, customers will vomit, die or miscalculate tips.
GEORGE: Merry Christmas!
KRUGER: Not if you could see our books.
Notice how Seinfeld bosses botch the basics:
- Mr. Kruger’s indifference permeates Kruger Industrial Smoothing, dooming the firm to mediocrity.
- Mr. Leland is unable to fire Kramer, who doesn’t even really work there.
- Mr. Lippman’s tactical ineptitude incurs the wrath of Rebecca DeMornay, blowing the lid off his muffin top operation.
- Mr. Pitt’s obsession with trivial details prevents him from conquering Moland.
- Mr. Steinbrenner reduces the Yankees to a laughingstock, all for the glorification of his massive ego.
Lesson: Bosses should study these Seinfeld bosses, and then follow George’s lead and do the opposite.
Miscellaneous Business Lessons
- Background checks: Make sure you know whether you’re buying Jon Voigt’s car or John Voigt’s car.
- Ethics: Don’t: steal lobsters, raisins or marble ryes; install black market showerheads; masquerade as an architect, white supremacist or marine biologist; serve 600 pounds of rotten meat; mix up your import/export stories; take an unpurchased book into the bathroom; participate in cock fighting or violate the Good Samaritan Law. These things, like rat hats, aren’t going to be good for anybody.
- Human resources: Employees often run scams by inventing fake employees. Check out anyone on the payroll named Susie.
- Inventory control: Never run out of marble rye.
- IT: Passwords that consist of five letters, such as Bosco, are easily hacked.
- Occupational disability: If you’re a hand model, don’t just wear oven mitts, buy insurance.
- Quality control: An example of poor quality control is when your operating theater permits a Junior Mint to slip through the cracks and into the patient’s abdominal cavity.
- Recruiting: Decide whether you want a kosher butcher or a mohel, and recruit accordingly.
- Sales: When you take customers (those sons of bitches) to lunch, don’t let them order soup. Egg white omelets and big salads are OK.
- Security: To monitor your staff, leave behind a briefcase with a tape recorder in it. Then, listen to the tape and build a diorama. Also: Don’t give your security guard a chair.
- Strategy: It’s better to focus on importing and exporting, rather than just importing or just exporting. Especially when you plan to lie about it (see: Ethics).
- Workflow management: “When you look annoyed all the time, people think that you’re busy.” – George Costanza
Over to You
Master these Seinfeld business lessons, and you will become Master of the Universe. To help those who have set their sights even higher, what Seinfeld business insights can you share?
About the author: Brad Shorr is the Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, an Internet marketing agency headquartered in Chicago. With many years of entrepreneurial experience, he writes frequently on business strategy and content marketing topics.