Shiny Object Syndrome: Is your business at risk?

Shiny Object Syndrome. SOS! It has a nice ring to it, and more and more of us are falling into its grip. What is it, exactly? Well, you know how we’re surrounded by the latest and greatest sizzling things grabbing our attention? That can lead us to buy, explore, or go off on a tangent chasing all those new and exciting things flashing across the screen. We get seduced by the flavor of the month–that must-have tool, gadget, class, product–you name it! And we get derailed from our higher priority work tasks.

In her post “Eeek! Shiny Object Syndrome,” Karyn Greenstreet of Passion for Business writes, “It seems to be a trend that’s growing: small business owners are getting distracted by too many ideas or the latest fad, going off in a million directions and never completing anything. This loss of focus is costing you hundreds of hours a year in lost productivity, lost hours, lost dollars.”

Of course, small businesses are not the only ones afflicted by Shiny Object Syndrome. A good portion of the high-tech industry is known for buying every flashy new toy and developing hip new software just because their competition is. Here’s an example taken from p. 93 of my work-place effectiveness book, The Naked Desk:

Jacob started a new position managing the marketing department of a high tech company. Excited about what was possible for the company, Jacob latched onto one product piece of software to assist clients with day-to-day efficiency. Though several products of its kind already existed in the marketplace, Jacob envisioned creating a web-based tool that combined the bells and whistles of every hot piece of software he could think of.

His passionate presentation at the leadership meeting got him buy-in for the project. He received needed funding and started putting in 14-hour days to develop the software. The features of the software kept growing and expanding. Every week, Jacob thought of new things to add. Soon he had to request more money …

Deadline after deadline passed. The budget inflated. Countless work hours mounted from designers, developers and engineers.

The executive sponsor finally called STOP! He cancelled the project all together. Within a month, Jacob the marketing manager submitted his resignation. Because most of his focus had gone toward the software development, he did not meet his marketing and sales objectives. And this meant his position at the company was vulnerable. He opted to bow out before they asked him to leave.

Although Jacob talked a great story and stirred possibility in peopleís minds, in the end he didn’t deliver.

Like Jacob, when you make things more complex than they need to be [and you’re in deep with SOS], you experience over-extended schedules, stress and inflated budgets. Not to mention disgruntled workers and all-around fatigue. Some ideas are so outlandish, in fact, that they never get off the ground. You become overwhelmed by your own vision.

Regardless of industry though, each us can easily slip into the alternate reality of SOS, exploring all the new features of FaceBook or even deciding how many features to use with MSProject. Todd Defren at says it well: “Shiny Object Syndrome is marked by a headlong and heedless rush; but, lasting businesses are built when business and PR plans are carefully plotted and sculpted – not thrown against the wall to see what sticks.”

There are some questions to think about before grabbing hold of a shiny object. Greenstreet suggests asking yourself six questions:

  1. Is this right for my business?
  2. Do my customers want this, and are they willing to pay for it?
  3. Do I have the time, resources, energy, and money to put into this to make it successful?
  4. Do I have too many open projects sitting on my desk that need to be finished before I begin something new?
  5. Do I have the ability to finish this new project, and implement it, and maintain it?
  6. What has to drop off my radar in order for me to start something new?

In most cases you can zip through these questions in a minute or two. If you get a wave of impulsiveness, with thoughts firing in a have-to-do-or-buy-this-now way, how about waiting just one day? Sleep on it and then decide if the potential shiny object in front of you will be the next best direction for you, your department or company. Delayed gratification does have it’s advantages!

15 Comments for “Shiny Object Syndrome: Is your business at risk?”

  1. posted by lana on

    Wow – fantastic write up! I’m going to frame this article and put it in front of my desk. I’m all too guilty of Shiny Object Syndrome — I always make my deadlines — but the stress could be avoided altogether if I weren’t so obsessive about making everything perfect.

    Thank you, Sue.

  2. posted by lana on

    Karyn Greenstreet’s blog has recently moved. Her new blog is here:

  3. posted by The Success Professor on

    Very good post. It is a reminder of how the internet can be a tool and a trap. There are a lot of “shiny objects” on the internet. It is possible to go from link to link to link, all the time finding wonderful resources, but never growing your business. At the same time, if you discipline yourself, make use of RSS feeds, set aside particular times for using the internet (and time limits), the tools can be very valuable.

  4. posted by Anne on

    those questions work great with my job…
    homemaker, wife to one, and mom to 4…
    I don’t want to be perfect, but sometimes overwhelm the rest of the family with a new “shiny” thing to do
    I love #6, what has to drop off radar (or be given up) to make the time for this shiny thing?

    great article…tweaked it to fit me

  5. posted by Alex Fayle on

    I think most entrepreneurs have SOS to some degree – it’s the vision and the creativity that makes us want to work for ourselves that also creates too many shiny new ideas.

    I’ve recently managed to cut myself back to doing one thing at a time (I hope).

  6. posted by Peter on

    I definitely have, and still battle with, SOS. I just have reached a point where I realized something that really helped me overcome this…

    ‘There are lots of ways to chase after money. However, do what you do best, and the money will chase you.”

  7. posted by Mary on

    Great post! There is a typo in the last sentence of the last paragraph (it’s) that you might want to fix.

    I grew up in the military where there is another term for SOS – I couldn’t help but draw the parallels!

  8. posted by Suzyn on

    Absolutely the antidote to SOS (and, no, I’m in no way affiliated):

  9. posted by Eric on

    I dunno that I want to buy a book from an author who confuses “all together” (in a group) and “altogether” (completely).

    Really, if you can’t write correctly, how are we supposed to put stock in your advice?

  10. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Eric — Wow. It must be difficult for you to find reading material.

  11. posted by List Mama on

    It is hard, especially when your new to business, not to look around and see all the bells & whistles that others websites have. SOS – I’ll have to remember that, next time I think I have to have something.


  12. posted by Elizabeth on

    This one plagues nonprofit organizations, too, although often the “Shiny Object” is grant funding. We call it Mission Creep – when an organization starts taking on additional projects based either on funding availability or perceived need, but NOT based on the organization’s mission. Suddenly you discover that your organization has no focus (and is therefore difficult to market to potential funders) and is doing a lot of different things, but not doing any of them very well.

  13. posted by Sandy on

    We call SOS “scope creep” at my job when a reasonable sized project expands until it becomes too expensive to complete – and then is cancelled, wasting a lot of time and energy. Since reading this post, I’ve realized that I am struggling with it too. I try to tackle an item on my to-do list and one thing leads to another and I don’t get back to what I was trying to accomplish.

  14. posted by Kyle Chowning on

    this is a great article. Very needed by guys like me who seem to get mesmerized by shiny objects.

  15. posted by Party Plan Pat on

    I need to get more focused as I read your blog!

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