Prioritizing the Right Creative Projects: A Guiding Framework with Cost and Impact

(for those looking to go straight to the tool/framework, link is here)

A huge part of my job is prioritizing, answering for products, “Of the million things we can do right now, what should we do? What shouldn’t we do?”

Tackling these kinds of questions requires a lot of input — in the form of data, research, testing, thinking, feelings, conversations, etc. And if everything goes right, you end up with a flexible product roadmap that sets the product, team, and company up for success and learning.

I’ve done this for all sorts of products —e.g. mobile apps, email tools, education software. But never for my comedy projects.

The Comedy Muse and Its Limits

In the past, I haven’t used product-related tools when deciding what comedy projects to work on. Instead, I’ve followed inspiration — a muse that tells me what’s fun and exciting to do right now. The muse is the spark that gets me writing that promises some sort of magic if I just dig hard enough and figure it all out.

The muse is amazing, but it’s limited to the sparkly stuff. The muse loves what’s thrilling without regard for your limited time and resources.

The muse doesn’t care about your demanding job. It thinks you can magically make a videographer, director, sound person, and actors appear, and it assumes that your final product will be automatically be broadcast to millions of loving fans.

In short, the muse doesn’t think about cost/effort of your work or the impact it will have. If you trust the muse to make all your decisions, you’ll have a backlog of ideas you never acted on because your time goes to high cost, low impact work.

Thinking about Cost and Impact

When you’re deciding on where to spend your comedy time, energy, and money, you want to consider cost and impact. At the most basic level:

  • High impact = good. Low impact = bad.
  • High cost = bad. Low cost = good.

Best stuff to do: high impact, low cost projects.

Worst stuff to do: low impact, high cost projects.

The Tool/Framework

The tool/framework is here. It has you evaluate each project for impact and cost, based on a few different factors. It then gives a higher score to things with higher impact and lower cost, and a lower score. Use the score to determine whether you should do something.

Instructions:

  1. Make a copy of the file and delete the examples. Make a copy by going to File → Make a Copy. Delete the examples in lines 8 and 9, but keep the formulas for overall impact score, overall cost, and overall score.
  2. Project. Fill a project name and description in.
  3. Rate impact. Rate the project’s impact from 1 to 5 based on the impact components listed. Low impact = 1, High impact = 5. The sheet will calculate an average impact score.
  4. Rate cost. Rate the project’s cost from 1 to 5 based on the cost components. Low cost = 1, High cost = 5. The sheet will calculate an average cost score.
  5. View overall score. View the overall score, which is impact divided by cost. Higher number is better (high impact, low cost). Pay attention to your reactions for the next part.
  6. Reflect/Decide. Use those numbers to reflect/have a conversation about what projects to pursue first.

Example:

Let’s compare two ideas that popped up for me this week.

Project Info

  1. Chicken nugget yelp. A yelp account that reviews restaurants/food as if the reviewer thinks the restaurants are always doing a play on chicken nuggets (most reviews will be 4 stars, end with “I would have given it 5 stars, but I took out one star because I don’t see how the shrimp pad thai was a play on chicken nuggets at all”). I’d then screenshot every review and put it on a website or Instagram.
  2. A half hour stage play of what I imagine the Fast and Furious 19 will be.

Evaluated on impact:

For Chicken Nugget Yelp:

  • Passion rating: 3. I’m pretty interested in it.
  • Audience rating: 3. My guess is that there’d be some interest and is easily digestible, since it mocks obsessive foodie culture.
  • Adds value/skillset: 1. It doesn’t add any skills for me.
  • Learning rating: 3. I think I could learn a decent amount about where my future projects should live — since this plays around with the idea of doing something on a platform that wasn’t intended for this (yelp), and would involve me using instagram for this, which I don’t normally do.
  • Relationships: 2. I probably won’t meet anyone new, but in the small chance it takes off, maybe I’d meet some food bloggers.
  • Overall impact score: 2.4

For Fast and Furious 19:

  • Passion rating: 4. I love the series, and the silliness of this idea.
  • Audience rating: 3. Parodies of pop culture stuff are always catchy, and given a decent script and cast, think I can get a theater to put it up at least once.
  • Adds value/skillset: 2. I already have some experience writing a half hour, but could stand to develop it more.
  • Learning rating: 1. Whether this fails or succeeds, I’m not sure how this would inform future projects.
  • Relationships: 3. I’d probably meet some new actors and develop a stronger relationship with actors I already know.
  • Overall impact score: 2.6.

For impact, Fast and Furious 19 edges out Chicken Nugget Yelp by a tiny bit.

Evaluated on cost:

For Chicken Nugget Yelp:

  • Personal cost rating: 2. It would be cheap for me to do on my own, though I might eat out more to get more content
  • External cost rating: 1. It doesn’t require coordination with anyone else.
  • Overall cost score: 1.5.

For Fast and Furious 19:

  • Personal cost rating: 4. It would require a lot of personal cost in writing and rewriting to get it right — making something that starts as a gimmick sustain audience attention for a half hour is just hard.
  • External cost rating: 4. It would also require getting a lot of other people (actors, a director) to be involved, organizing rehearsal times/spaces/costs, and getting a theater to pick it up.

On cost, Chicken Nugget Yelp wins.

Overall Score

While Fast and Furious 19 might be a little more impactful, it’s way more expensive, and the overall score shows this. I could talk this over with a trusted friend to see if they agree with my inputs, but just based on this, the tool points to the winner: Chicken Nugget Yelp. I’d do that one first.

Disclaimers, Assumptions, and Concerns

Disclaimers:

  • This is an exercise, and shouldn’t dictate how you make decisions as much as inform it. Worst case scenario is that you’ll have done more thinking about where to put your time.
  • There’s no data to support this model.
  • There should probably be some weighting in these factors, but my guess is that it’s different for everyone. Because the math is all kind of made up here, this should be used as one input in your decisions.
  • I’m a person on the internet. In general, people on the internet are bad and don’t know anything.

Assumptions and Concerns:

Product (currently Shutterstock, formerly Warby Parker) and Comedy (New Yorker, UCB, FunnyOrDie)