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Unravelling and fixing Shiny Object Syndrome

Shiny Object Syndrome can be loosely defined as a predisposition toward any new idea seen as trendy or cool. However, fascination with the new idea is short-lived and never gets time or detailed attention.
Last Updated : 08 July 2024, 22:46 IST

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The chief operating officer pleads to his marketing head: “Can we first execute the ideas we agreed upon? Let us have another call to discuss new ideas.”

“Every week, he has a new idea and wants me to try it. I, too, have several ideas, but I have annual revenue targets. Unlike him, I am not paid to strategise without execution. There must be a balance,” cribs a product manager.

These are typical conversations of people who are victims of Shiny Object Syndrome.

Birds like magpies and crows love collecting shiny objects. Curiosity and impressing their mates are motives that drive the birds.

Human beings also display this fascination with shiny objects, which can help them climb the social or organisational ladder faster. 

Shiny Object Syndrome can be loosely defined as a predisposition toward any new idea seen as trendy or cool. However, fascination with the new idea is short-lived and never gets time or detailed attention. It is replaced by another idea that has gathered attention. This could manifest in organisations and personal areas.

Have you joined online courses but lost interest midway and found yourself joining another course? You could be having this syndrome.

Symptoms of the syndrome

New ideas should be given time for incubation and deliberation. Minor failures or initial setbacks should not discourage the pursuit of the idea. There should be a deeper conviction.  

However, shine-loving people move on from one fad or trending topic to the next. Even if an idea tastes an initial success, they don’t pursue it and try to amplify it.

People with high motivation and drive, such as entrepreneurs and senior executives, are the most likely victims of this syndrome.

But now, with the internet delivering life and business hacks to your device, anyone could be susceptible.

This syndrome is a double-edged sword. The ability to keep looking for the new can also ensure success, but it can also lead to problems.

The lure of the shiny object

People and organisations constantly seek radical ideas to give them a competitive advantage. There are psychological, marketing and organisational forces that lure us toward the shiny object 

Psychological forces: Humans are attracted to novelty. They also experience fear, uncertainty, and doubt about their operations, which makes them look for life’s next hack.

Then there are “Are we thinking outside the box?” enthusiasts who believe there is a great idea out there, which needs immediate attention.

Marketing forces: Technology innovators use this novelty charm to market new products and services.

In his book Purple Cow, marketing guru Seth Godin explains how to create and expand markets by targeting those driven by novelty to ensure faster product adaptation.

Plenty of business case studies of leading companies have failed because they have not adapted to a technology or an idea pursued by competition.

Even business literature caters to this demand for novelty.  Books on innovation, total quality control, and customer satisfaction have all had hype cycles.

Organisational forces: The syndrome is harder to resist if the idea comes from a senior-level executive such as the CEO or a board member. They could just forward a new LinkedIn post or even a cold email from a vendor. 

Subsequently, this becomes perceived as the new organisational strategy, and the entire organisation scrambles to find ways to implement the new idea.

Managing the syndrome

Time is the biggest judge of whether the new idea is a component of the syndrome or if you are genuinely interested in it. Allow the idea to marinate in your thoughts or put them down separately. If the idea reappears after a few days, it probably goes beyond a fad. Other points are:

Evaluate your objective. Is the new idea aligned with your objective? Are you doing something similar to the new idea? For example, if you have fitness goals, the difference between aerobics and callisthenics may not be much. Question yourself if the investment in time and money is worth the effort.

You could also ask your colleague or partner to evaluate the idea to understand if he or she finds it relevant to the task at hand. 

Ensure you are soliciting feedback from a peer or manager on the idea. 

Unless you are sure you will receive candid feedback, avoid soliciting feedback/validation from a vendor or someone reporting to you.  

Sometimes publicists, such as authors, journalists and podcasters get paid to discuss the new and the shiny. Be cognizant of their need to amplify and overemphasise its importance.

Thanks to the pyramid organisational structure, top-down communication is highly valued and prioritised. When categorising tasks, consider using classifications such as ‘For attention’, ‘Investigation before implementation’ and ‘Discuss before execution’.

Identifying a new, valid idea with substance and a shiny object is difficult. It is a cocktail of the need for novelty, peer pressure, and standing out in the crowd. However, with contemplation, the distinction between a well-considered idea and the shiny object syndrome will be clear in your personal and professional life.

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Published 08 July 2024, 22:46 IST

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