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Seven Business Lessons I’ve Learned from “Seinfeld”

Today’s post comes to us from Brandon Bielich, managing editor of The Workforce Institute at UKG

Although it premiered more than 30 years ago to slight fanfare, “Seinfeld” became one of the most successful U.S. sitcoms ever made. This week marks 25 years since the show’s polarizing and often-panned finale originally aired. Whether they laughed, cried, or critiqued, an estimated 76.3 million people tuned in to watch the “Seinfeld” signoff on NBC. 

“Seinfeld” has since become my favorite show of all time. Thanks to the unmatched combo of syndication and streaming, I’ve repeatedly enjoyed all 180 episodes. I can quote most scenes and some entire episodes verbatim, though I always seem to notice a new “little nugget” with each rewatch. 

So, in honor of the finale’s milestone anniversary, today I’m sharing seven business lessons I’ve learned from watching “Seinfeld.” There are many others than what’s listed below, but seven is a fantastic number (and name — just ask George Costanza). 

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1) When networking, always confirm someone’s name. In the series’ second episode, Jerry meets a woman at a dinner party, but neglects to learn her name before she leaves (it wouldn’t be the last time Jerry fails to get someone’s name, actually). All he knows is her workplace, a law firm, which he commits to memory — Sagman, Bennett, Robbins, Oppenheim, and Taft. Jerry spends almost the entire episode trying to reconnect with her. Knowing her name would’ve saved Jerry significant time and energy. In the late 80s, there was no social media. But even in today’s business world, if you just had a name, you could connect on LinkedIn within seconds. [Watch: Season 1, Episode 2 — “The Stakeout”] 

2) Get to know your coworkers as people. While writing for the J. Peterman clothing catalog, Elaine Benes must collaborate with an intimidating colleague, Eddie. He’s dressed in military fatigues, speaks with a gritty tone, and pens some dark passages, which Elaine initially finds off-putting. When she finally gets to know the person, however, Elaine discovers Eddie is merely a misunderstood guy who’s coping with a broken heart. We can learn a lot from people through conversation. No matter the demeanor outside, there’s a human inside. Whether you’re collaborating on an assignment or grabbing coffee in the breakroom, make time to chat with your coworkers. Knowing your colleagues — how they think, what they care about — serves to improve the work experience for both of you. [Watch: Season 8, Episode 6 — “The Fatigues”] 

3) Interns are valuable to any organization. Ever the innovative entrepreneur, the quirky Cosmo Kramer enlists the help of a college intern named Darren to support his faux company, Kramerica Industries. Though Darren becomes a glorified personal assistant, he also assists Kramer in testing an elaborate oil-reserve “bladder system” to prevent tanker spills (not a bad idea, if it works. Spoiler: it doesn’t). Though often panned as exploited free labor, interns can provide great value. When done right, the two-way relationship benefits both parties. Interns gain firsthand experience and organizations learn fruitful insights from the next generation. [Watch: Season 9, Episode 2 — “The Voice”] 

4) Embrace new assignments with an open mind — you might enjoy the experience. George has made a career of avoiding work. To wit, in his front-office job with the New York Yankees, he feigns being stressed and overworked to avoid receiving more work. Sensing George needs a break, his boss Mr. Wilhelm offers him a “fun, little assignment”: meet with reps from the Houston Astros to discuss Interleague play and “show them a good time.” At first, George scoffs at the idea — it is more work, after all. However, after literally loosening his tie, George fully embraces the task, the Texans’ lifestyles, and their preferred language. Even if a project seems trite at first, keep an open mind and find ways to instill your personal passion or interests. Sometimes, work can be fun. [Watch: Season 7, Episode 5 — “The Hot Tub”] 

5) Being the first one in and last one out of the office doesn’t always pay off. When a valuable position opens with the Yankees, George hatches yet-another scheme to avoid work and still get promoted. He goes on vacation with his fiancée, leaving his car at work to look like he’s logging extreme hours. But, as usual for George, it backfires. He’s forced to rush back to the office, upending his vacation plans and missing the promotion. There are actually two lessons here: 1) Focus on performing well at work, and you won’t need to cut your way ahead. 2) There’s a delicate difference between quiet quitting and overworking. If you don’t find the right balance between work and life, you’ll lose out on both. [Watch: Season 7, Episode 12 — “The Caddy”] 

6) Too many decisions/micromanaging leads to complications and undesired outcomes. Late in the series, Jerry hires a contractor to redesign his kitchen. He insists on providing Jerry with options at every decision point, including his name — “Conrad, Connie, or Con, whatever you prefer.” But all the micromanaging only hinders Conrad’s progress and frustrates Jerry, who finally blows up and tells Connie to “just … do it.” While some decisions must be made at the top, if frontline employees (like Con) don’t feel trusted enough to make informed decisions on their own, it’ll slow down processes and could tank entire projects, which ultimately happens in this episode. Trust your talent to take risks and make decisions. You hired them for their skills, knowledge, and expertise, so let them work and check in periodically. [See: Season 8, Episode 18 — “The Nap”] 

7) If all else fails, try doing the opposite. Throughout the series, George comes up short. It’s poetic, given the countless shortcuts he takes. A notable exception is the fifth season’s finale, “The Opposite,” where George does just that and his life starts to suddenly turn around. If you’re stuck on a problem without a solution: go against your initial instinct, solicit diverse perspectives, and seek out other points of view. This is a great practice, even if you aren’t stuck. Organizations thrive on diversity of thought. So, routinely challenge your status quo, and work to foster a culture of innovation that encourages calculated risk-taking. Channel your inner Costanza and try doing the opposite. To quote Elaine, “There’s no telling what can happen from this.” [Watch: Season 5, Episode 22 — “The Opposite”] 

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