Passion projects and falling for sunk costs

“sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered (also known as retrospective cost).” 

wikipedia – Sunk cost

The idea behind sunk costs is that what you spent yesterday shouldn’t really be considered for today’s decisions. The reason I bring up sunk costs is because it’s so easy to fall into this trap. Our brains are wired to prevent losing something over gaining something new.

A common sunk cost for us is time. When you’ve put a lot of time into a project your willing to put a little more into that project to finish it. If a project isn’t going well and you’re not engaged the reasonable thing might be to move onto something new. It never feels that way in the moment, it feels like if we quit all the work we did in the past is worthless. The money and time that you spent in the past cannot be recovered by future spending.

One way out of sunk cost is planning projects around multiple upsides. Find projects were you benefit even if you fail. Maybe one goal for the short you’re making is to become a well known director. You can also make this an opportunity to learn a new skill like working with collaborators, testing a new business model, experimenting with production structure, pushing an artistic boundary. When it looks like the project isn’t going well you can bail, and you’ll know you’re not losing everything.