Shiny object syndrome is the phenomenon of being distracted by new and exciting opportunities. For entrepreneurs, this can mean new business ideas, or products or services that aren’t part of their current business plan. They have an urge to try this new thing that someone seems to be doing successfully. Realising you are experiencing shiny object syndrome means admitting that your focus is waning and you’re being pulled away by possibility and a fear of missing out.
Most seemingly overnight successes took years, rather than someone spending a few hours on the latest technology and becoming a billionaire. But as visionary people, entrepreneurs can see the potential of a shiny object very quickly, and they can become infatuated by the potential at the cost of their main business.
Why is shiny object syndrome a problem?
Getting a business off the ground and to any level of success requires focus, effort and persistence. While some businesses can succeed as side projects, those that go the furthest have the full attention of the founders. But founders can overlook the work required to make even the shiniest of objects perform, and barrel forward without realising the cost. Plus, shiny objects are particularly appealing when progress in your main venture is slow. Or even when progress is fast, if you have an underlying fear of success, shiny object syndrome can crop up as a form of self-sabotage.
Either way, succumbing for this common pitfall is a problem because it takes energy, focus and attention away from the core business. It also drills a less useful way of thinking. Rather than someone practising consistency, sustained effort in one direction, and focus, they are pursuing distraction, trends and short-term dopamine hits.
It’s never been harder to avoid shiny object syndrome because there have never been more shiny objects. When setting up a business, the founder needs to do three things: define their core product, know their ideal customer avatar, and find the one channel through which these people are reached. Once this product-market fit is achieved, the task becomes scaling the business based on these three metrics, deviating from the plan only when there’s a clear reason to. Spreading effort across multiple products, multiple customer avatars and multiple marketing channels because you’re trying out every idea that pops up is bad news for the early days and will only serve to confuse you and your audience. Confused customers don’t buy.
What constitutes a shiny object?
Shiny objects can include new business ideas or joint ventures that an entrepreneur might feel tempted to start, especially in the early days when things are less sure or in the later days when they might be stagnating. Shiny objects can include new technologies: AI, blockchain, automation and robotics. Shiny objects might arrive in the form of social media platforms, when someone hears the success stories of entrepreneurs on TikTok and jumps onboard.
New advancements and breakthroughs happen every day, and it’s human nature to wonder if you could be making use of them. Hopping onto the news or social media means you see everything other people are doing and wonder if you should be emulating their strategy. In such a fast-moving world, with so many possibilities, have we forgotten how to double down on one thing?
Attending just one conference can mean consuming hours of talks on why you absolutely should go down this particular route of making money. Attendees leave with notebooks packed with ideas that are full of potential. But scattered effort isn’t what made those speakers successful. They doubled down on one until they saw the fruits of their labour. Focus is a superpower and for entrepreneurs this is especially true. Those that crack the focus code will lap those that don’t. Which camp are you in?
The problem with succumbing to shiny object syndrome is that it’s never over. As soon as you drop the ball on your main venture for that new shiny object, another one appears. Entrepreneurs chasing the next shiny object will forever be chasing, never committing to one path and never seeing it through.
How to avoid shiny object syndrome
Experiencing shiny object syndrome doesn’t mean your existing business is duff. It means you’re human. But recognising when a shiny object is and isn’t useful will help you stay on track. When you become enamoured with the possibility of a new thing, train yourself to think about the potential of your current thing. It’s easy to think about the best-case scenario of something unknown, and harder when you’re facing challenges every day. But remember what you’re working so hard towards and how much progress you’re making.
When you’re hearing someone talk about all the crazy gains they’re getting from this new thing, consider their agenda. Why are they making it sound so easy? Perhaps they’re trying to sell you something. Maybe they have underestimated the time they spent making it move. Then there’s survivorship bias; what about all the people who jumped ship, went all in with the shiny object and didn’t win big? Be curious, ask questions, but tread carefully before changing your plans.
Avoid shiny object syndrome by knowing your strategy and sticking to it. Maybe it sounds obvious, but with a robust and agreed-upon plan of action you truly believe in, you’re going to be far less likely to deviate. If you’re being pulled away, you are forgetting the plan. In that case, make it front and centre. Write your number one goal on your bathroom mirror, make a desktop background of your roadmap to success. Don’t let yourself forget what you’re doing to deflect the shiny objects that won’t stop appearing.
Another way to avoid shiny object syndrome is to have a period of low-media consumption, where you intentionally avoid news and updates in favour of laser-focus on your business. This might mean unsubscribing from newsletters, logging out of social media, not booking meetings and letting a VA handle your email. During this phase you have a clear goal and you know exactly what to do on a daily basis to reach it. Hermit mode is a solid strategy that gives your venture the best chance of succeeding.
There’s often an urgency to shiny objects because they are new and exciting, and the winnings go to the people who jump on them quickly. After the early adopters comes the mass market and the latecomers, and by then it’s too late for meaningful results. This can instil a false sense of priority, that you have to do something immediately. Really, there are very few things that absolutely must be actioned right now. Even if your heart is racing and you can’t wait to get cracking, take a step back, sleep on it, and consider your options only after taking stock.
Finally, before starting a new business or exploring a new technology, think about the downside. If you spend time in this new arena, where does that time come from? It has to come from somewhere. If it’s not your current business it’s your sleep, leisure or family time. Do you really want to skip the gym to learn a new software? Do you want to miss dinner with your daughter for a webinar on AI? Think about what gives in order that a new interest is added. Maybe it’s not so enticing after all.
Shiny object syndrome: tread carefully
Strike that sweet balance between intense focus and unlimited distraction. This means defaulting to opting out, saying no and persevering with your main venture and the product, customers and channels it’s focused on right now. Keep an eye on advancements, make your move at the right time, but don’t be consumed by what every opportunity might mean for you. If you decide to pursue something, be absolutely clear on where that energy is repurposed from, and if that’s a trade-off you’re willing to make. Discern the true opportunities from the distractions in disguise to tame the shiny object syndrome monster that wants to keep you playing small.