Judd Apatow Thinks He Became Successful by Overdelivering. He’s Wrong

In an interview with Graham Bensinger, filmmaker Judd Apatow revealed that when people ask him for tips on how to become successful, he tells them two things:

  1. Don’t be a dick.
  2. Overdeliver.

The first one is always good advice. The second one though?

Apatow explains that he never felt good at anything besides comedy. It was a safe space, one in which he felt comfortable displaying his skills.

If someone says ‘I need 10 jokes’, in my head I thought ‘I can write them a 100 jokes, and then they’ll like me, and then I can keep working’.”

He’s one of the most successful comedic producers of the last two decades, so arguing that Apatow is wrong might seem foolish. I’m going to do it anyway.

When you’re starting out, it’s not unusual to equate working hard with over-working. Taking those first few steps towards your goal is exciting, and a little daunting. Getting carried away is easy.

The ones that don’t burn out are those who realise that the quality of work is what matters, not how far beyond expectations you strive.

As a 2014 study entitled Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking Versus Exceeding Promises proves, going above and beyond does not pay off.

In the experiment, subjects were divided into two groups – a promise maker, and a promise receiver – and asked to complete up to 40 puzzles within a time period. The promise makers could choose whether or not to assist the promise receiver, and if they did, had to promise to help solve 10 of the puzzles.

Unsurprisingly, if the promise makers failed to solve 10 puzzles, the promise receivers reacted poorly. But when promise makers overdelivered, there was no substantial variance in the level of positivity promise receivers showed to them than those who stopped after solving the amount of puzzles they promised.

It was their ability to deliver on their promise that mattered most.

Apatow was asked to write 10 jokes. He wrote 100. They were probably all brilliant, because Apatow is brilliant at what he does.

But the comedian he penned them for only needed 10. So only 10 were used.

And if he’d only wrote 10, he would still be where he is today.

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