Monday, February 21, 2011

Cost-Benefit Analysis

I learned about the term 'cost-benefit analysis' from business.  In short, when faced with a problem that has multiple possible ways to handle it, you measure the costs of the action and its results, and you weigh them against the benefits.

If you make cars and one of your models has a serious defect in it, you can either do a recall or you can leave it be.  Recalls are expensive, but they avoid the lawsuits that the defects could result in.  Lawsuits are expensive, but only if enough people sue you.  Both of them will result in negative press, but doing a factory recall is far less damaging than a news report of a baby getting killed because of a defect.  So you need to weigh out which will cost more, in time, effort, image, materials, and everything else, and see which has the lowest cost.

Really, though, that's something we all do, all the time (I hope).  I need to take a shower, but I only have 15 minutes to get to work.  Showering makes me smell good, but makes me late.  Leaving now makes me on time, but stinky.  You could compromise by scrubbing yourself with soap and water and putting on some kind of deodorant, which will make you less late and less stinky.  Three options are all viable, all have costs and benefits.  You have to decide how late you can afford to be and how stinky you can afford to be at work.

The choice we make depends on our opinions on the situation, which can cause some serious surprises in our stories.  When a character has to make a choice, they may not make the same choice you did.  Saving the bad guy's life is a strange twist to many.  But for some people, letting the bad guy fall to his death may be the surprise.  The difference is which one you would choose.

In that note, you can't choose whether your audience will agree or disagree, but if you present a compelling enough scenario, they will have a reaction no matter what.  And that's what matters more.

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