Shiny Object Syndrome

A friend described the following scenario to me via email.

A business he advises keeps getting distracted by new opportunities before the old ones have had a chance to take root, he called it “shiny object syndrome”.

And while each business area will have their version, it’s a term I’m familiar with because I have used it for years and particularly to describe the way organisations approach ‘brand’ (aka marketing).

Here’s what happens. Maybe the organisation isn’t performing the way it should, or perhaps people are just a bit bored with what’s been used for the past year or five and the call gets made to the agency or the consultant to come and provide ‘a fix’. And, before you can say “rebrand”, all sorts of fun, shiny objects start showing up: New name; new logos; new taglines; new website; new ads (usually in that order).

As Rene Russo says in the movie Thomas Crown Affair: “It’s diversion, make a lot of noise over there and over here you can take $100 million off the wall without anyone noticing.”

Only, in this case, the diversion is that many of the shiny objects being dangled won’t fix anything (and hopefully they won’t cost you $100 million) because the issue is more deeply rooted than that.

The real issue might be product design, service structure, distribution channels, customer service, or execution and alignment of any number of other core business functions that go towards making a successful organisation – and moving beyond ‘brand’ to [Bob].

And sure, sometimes the marketing is the problem and by all means don’t ignore that side of things, it is important. But just don’t start there, and before you commit to it, make absolutely sure it isn’t just providing a diversion from other things that do need doing.

It can be hard to go cold turkey from shiny objects – after all, that stuff is usually fun and you can see an outcome pretty fast. And some of the other work that needs doing is – well, not really fun, and it might not deliver results quite so fast.

But that’s the discipline part. Sticking with it. Saying no. Doing the process work that makes everything else tick. Focusing on what promises you are making and keeping them.

Here are a couple of things that might help you avoid shiny objects.

Before you embark on a project or new initiative for the organisation ask why you are doing it (not what it is or how it will get done). Then keep asking why until you are sure you are doing it for the right reasons.

Drop the pebble in the pond and follow the ripples (good and bad) across the organisation and stakeholders to make sure you’ve considered all possible impacts and outcomes.

List at least two other ways you could potentially achieve the desired why. You might still go forward with the original thing, but at least you’ll be able to do it with confidence you’re not just grabbing the shiny object.

There are a lot of shiny objects out there. It could be exploring too many new markets before the old ones have delivered results. It could be following the latest management fad. It could be embarking on culture change without knowing what you are changing. It could be putting in new technology systems because they are the new thing. I’m sure you can come up with your own.

The real work of building a successful [Bob] is not being distracted from your path no matter how shiny the object that gets dangled is.

See you next week.

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