Nell Scovell

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Just the funny parts by Nell Scovell is the story of 30+ years of television writing. We highlight people from all walks of life because of the potency of out of sample tests. If something proves true, relevant, or helpful in more than one domain it’s more likely to help in ours.

When running his models, Cliff Asness told Barry Ritholtz that out of sample tests are “very calming because it made you think there’s a much smaller chance that you’re just lucky.” So, what did Nell Scovell do so well?

Partner well. “My career has let me put words in the mouths of iconic performers like Bette Midler, Bob Newhart, Craig T. Nelson, and Miss Piggy. Those performers make everything funnier. It’s like having Serena Williams as your doubles partner.”

When Brian Koppelman wrote Billions, he knew the actors could add something to the writing. One step back and Koppelman’s writing partner, David Levein, is his doubles partner on the page.

Good partnerships are built, said Marc Andreessen, when “It has to be more important that the other one gets to make the decision than for you to prove yourself right.”

See it to believe it. It was Monty Python and other TV comedy where Scovell noticed that men and women are both funny. Ramit Sethi included case studies in his latest book for this reason too. When Paul Rudd told Marc Maron that he didn’t realize acting was something to do, Maron said that hears that a lot. It’s not just a job but that a job can be done by someone like me.

Heads I win, tails I don’t lose. I “TRYING SOMETHING NEW SHOULD BE THE EASIEST thing in the world. If you succeed, great. And if you fail, you have the perfect excuse: “Hey, I’ve never done this before.””

Chris Cole wondered why more people don’t take these kinds of risks. The cost is so small compared to the possible payout. Ask the girl, call the boy, talk to your boss.

Career. Scovell had a lot of bombed jokes and bad jobs. So what. Move on. “This approach also applies to an overall career where it’s better to focus on the next opportunity rather than ruminate on missed chances and setbacks.”

Jerry Murrell started and failed at a number of businesses. He had setbacks and no experience in restaurants – and why restaurants are terrible businesses – but he started one anyway. “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Murrell said, “I’m just lucky that I got in the hamburger business.” It was that opportunity that became Five Guys.

Culture stems from the top and flows down. In television that’s the showrunner. These people can frame how things are going to work – and where. In New Jersey, the writers were, “Operating outside Hollywood’s sphere (which) gave Monk a different feel. No one was reading the trades and the small staff buckled down and stayed focused.”

For Ken Burns, that means New Hampshire. For George Lucas, it was the Bay Area. Organizations can get a mental distance and remove cultural influences by abstraction. Here’s Bill Simmons on how the Celtics dealt with Greg Oden’s medical history.

Serendipity, according to Scovell is a “felicitous accident.” On one shoot she was getting a lot of pushback from the director of photography about how to compose different shots. During a rain break, she slipped under an overhang where a cameraman was watching the gear. They struck up a conversation, got to know one another, and as the shooting progressed he backed up her ideas.

It’s about being open to opportunities.

In 1979 Bill Walsh was the head coach and GM of the San Francisco 49ers. He visited UCLA to see if hurdler James Owens could be a football wide receiver. When Walsh got there he needed someone to throw the football to Owens. There was a quarterback there too, so Walsh asked him to throw a few balls. That quarterback’s name was Joe Montana.

Diversity. Scovell compares the Hollywood glass ceiling to the antifragile metal from the Terminator. That’s too bad because as one mentor told her, “A fairer sampling of humanity will always produce better comedy.”

Businesses call this “cognitive diversity” and as Michael Mauboussin said, “People that can surface different kinds of view is key for quality decision making.” How do you get diversity? Batches. Rory Sutherland notes that when choosing one thing we aim for the average thing. Families own one minivan. Vacations are the average for how much we can spend and choose to do. But do batch work and the decisions change. Hire one person each month for a year and it’ll be the average applicant. Hire twelve people once a year and there’ll be diversity.


Thanks for reading.

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