Contemplating a Change? Start with a Comedian’s One Sheet

Contemplating a Change? Start with a Comedian’s One Sheet

The following is adapted from Shtick to Business.

The Covid-19 pandemic is getting people to consider major changes to their lives. Perhaps there’s a loss of a job, a declining industry, or you simply can’t imagine going back to an office park this summer.

If you are in this situation–and you probably are–where do you start?

As a business school professor turned humor researcher, whenever I talk to people contemplating starting a new business, making a career change, launching a podcast, or any other major creative endeavor, I ask them if they’ve written their one-pager.

Why a One-Pager?

I learned about the power of the one-pager from my friends in comedy.

A one-pager is exactly what it sounds like, but if executed properly, it could help you either create a transformative product or help you not waste a ton of time. A comedy writer might start with a one-pager before starting a new screenplay or pilot. Similarly, a business leader might write a one-pager to kick off the planning process on a new project.

It includes an attention-getting lead description that identifies who your idea is for (i.e., describe the customer), what it does (i.e., what value do you create), and how it’s different (i.e., your unique selling proposition). You must revise, revise, revise. Do not go over one page. (And no tiny font.)

Every potential project I do (and every major project I don’t do) has a one-pager, including each of my books. I need the one-pager to figure out if the project is worth doing.

At the time, I was working on my first book, The Humor Code, with my co-author. We spent six weeks on the one-pager.

But sometimes, when I’m finished, I often decide, “Nope. I’m not going to do this project.” If I decide, “Oh this needs to happen yesterday.” In this way, the one-pager can be a time-saving device.

Write Fat, Trim It Down, and Keep the Meat

If I decide to pursue a project, my one-pager shifts from clarification to communication. After we finished our one-pager for The Humor Code, we knew we had a strong idea–and it only took two weeks to write the book proposal.

When you’re writing a first draft, whether it’s a project proposal or a joke, you’re simply getting your ideas on paper. It’s word salad, and everything is going on the page. As you clarify, you continue to add more fat, but in specific places, until you have everything you need. Editing is about trimming the fat but keeping the meat.

A problem writers have is that they are overly wordy—failing to capture the essence of what they’re trying to say. To edit effectively, you must strip away the non-essential.

One tool for “getting skinny” is to create a constraint. I favor the 10 percent rule. If I have a piece of writing that I feel pretty comfortable with, I then look to eliminate 10 percent of the words. The goal is, obviously, not to sacrifice any of the meaning or the ideas, but to find the fat I originally refused to see and cut it.

Amazon’s Unique Spin on this Concept

Amazon has a conceptually similar practice to a one-pager they use when contemplating a new product. Before management can decide to take on any new project, the person spearheading the project must write the press release. The press release must be consumer-centric and feel newsworthy and important to the target customers. This helps the team probe how customers would think and feel about the product or service before they even begin creating it.

Amazon has another writing process for new projects: the six-page memo. This process not only clarifies the idea and communicates to the team what is required, but it cuts back on meetings because everything they’ve thought of has been documented in a clear and meaningful way. The first thing they block time to read the memo.

Whether you’re limiting your writing to one page or six, the end result is a compact set of ideas that has been edited down to its essentials. In other words, it’s okay to write fat as long as you edit to get skinny.

One Sheet Is All You Need

Whatever core message you have to share with your friends, business partners, or investors, I guarantee it can be boiled down to fit on a single sheet of paper. Anything more and your most important point will become obscured and lost in other details.

Stick to the process of getting your ideas on paper, eliminate the wordiness, and preserve the meaning. If you follow these steps and organize your ideas onto a single page, your thoughts will come across in a concise, clear way that will save time and effort during your project-planning process.

For more business advice from the genius and madness of the world’s funniest people, you can find Shtick to Business on Amazon.