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Looking For A Big Idea? Jerry Seinfeld Says To Ask Yourself This Question

The greatest inspiration can come from the darkest places.

Harvard Business Review once interviewed Jerry Seinfeld.

His advice wasn’t funny. It was good.

Here’s my favorite exchange. The reporter asked how Seinfeld’s series Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee originated, and Seinfeld responded:

“It’s very important to know what you don’t like. A big part of innovation is saying, ‘You know what I’m really sick of?’ For me, that was talk shows where music plays, somebody walks out to a desk, shakes hands with the host, and sits down. ‘How are you?’ ‘You look great.’ I’m also sick of people who are really there to sell their show or product. ‘What am I really sick of?’ is where innovation begins.”

As I read that, I had a flashback to one of my favorite insights about innovation.

It came from the owner of the country’s silliest baseball team.

It’s also one of the greatest success stories I've heard.

And it was all driven by a similar insight to Seinfeld’s.

Many years ago, Jesse Cole bought a baseball team in Savannah, Georgia. This was small-time baseball — a rung below Single-A ball, where college players play for the summer. Jesse was a baseball purist and wanted to bring the art of the game to Savannah.

But nobody wanted it. The team nearly destroyed him. He had to sell his house. Empty his savings. He and his wife went $1.8 million in debt.

Then he had a revelation, and it went like this:

"Stop doing what your customers hate."

Of course, nobody sets out to do things that people hate. But we do it all the time anyway! Uninspired customer service? People hate that. Tedious processes? Hate, hate.

As Cole thought about baseball, he realized that there was a lot to hate. The ticket-buying process. The cost of food. The nonstop marketing. The slow game.

To succeed in baseball, he realized, he’d need to stop thinking of himself as being in the baseball business — and start thinking of himself as being in the entertainment business.

"Normal gets normal results," Jesse said. "So I thought, What would be abnormal at a baseball game? What will get people saying, "I can't believe what I saw tonight?' "

He renamed his team the Savannah Bananas, then reinvented everything about the experience. He taught his players to perform new dance moves every night, and to come up with wacky plays. Loaded up on unusual entertainment. Made all general admission tickets come with unlimited food.

The result was a spectacle that people loved, and a lot of stuff like this:

Games started selling out.

I first met Jesse years ago, when we both spoke at the same event. I was so impressed that I assigned a story about him in Entrepreneur, which is where those quotes above come from. And I’ve followed him ever since. His trajectory has been extraordinary.

The team has been a massive hit. The Savannah Bananas have millions of TikTok followers and are the subject of an ESPN+ documentary series. Now they’re doing a national tour and launched a new sport called Banana Ball. What other small-town team does that?

This should make you pause and wonder:

What are you doing, right now, that people hate?

“The idea is simple,” Entrepreneur’s reporter wrote in the story about Jesse. “At every step, you put yourself in the shoes of your customers and your employees, and you ask: Is their experience exciting or boring? Easy or complicated? Fun or frustrating? And if at any point it's the latter, then you've got a problem.”

But you also have an opportunity.

That’s how Jerry Seinfeld created his series.

That’s how Jesse Cole created the Bananas.

When you know what people hate, you also find what they love — and how you can give it to them.

This Pitch Is Full Gas!

Now THIS is how you pitch something!!

I asked the king of infomercials, "Oxyclean Guy" Anthony Sullivan, to do a pitch for my book — and the results are hilarious and brilliant.

Watch how he identifies people's pain points, turns the book into a solution, and then drives authority. A one-minute masterclass!

Oh, and he asked if I wanted the video to be conversational or "full gas."

Obviously, I said full gas.

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Cover credit: Getty Images / The Washington Post