Anjana Rao Product and tech leader. Reader. Traveller. Author. Coach.

Shiny object syndrome: Definition, examples, how to overcome

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Shiny Object Syndrome: Definition, Examples, How to Overcome

Shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a common problem that leads teams and organizations to abandon projects that might have been successful had they followed through.

In this guide, we’ll offer some tips and best practices to help you remain focused on one idea or initiative at a time and resist the urge to jump from project to project.

Table of contents

What is shiny object syndrome?

Shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a phenomenon where an individual or business is constantly drawn to new ideas or stimuli. In business and software development, it manifests as a constant need to chase after a new goal at the cost of delaying or discontinuing a task in progress.

In the simplest terms, shiny object syndrome means being distracted by new pursuits on the horizon. Succumbing to shiny object syndrome can lead to many unwanted outcomes, including lost focus, failure to achieve goals, lack of direction, and so forth.

Failure to manage and counteract shiny object syndrome can place your organization into a state of constant flux in which it struggles to commit to a single vision, goal, initiative, or direction. This could happen due to many factors, such as a lack of strong organizational leadership, leadership deluged by new ideas from the market or customers, and so on.

When a business is impacted by shiny object syndrome, the organization quickly switches from one initiative to another without achieving measurable outcomes due to changing priorities of the business or leadership.

Shiny object syndrome examples

Shiny object syndrome can occur anywhere and to anyone, be it individuals or businesses.

Some symptoms of shiny object syndrome for individuals are:

  • Unfinished projects/work
  • Constant changes in plan/objectives/goals
  • Constant switching from one task to another — i.e., no focused or deep work

Some symptoms of shiny object syndrome for businesses are:

  • Undelivered projects
  • Missed timelines/deadlines due to constant loss of focus and direction
  • Constantly evolving company goals, plans, and roadmaps

Usually, entrepreneurs are affected by shiny object syndrome in the quest for new ideas. The syndrome causes them to lose consistency and focus, which impacts the quality and timelines of products and services. This results in unhappy customers, further impacting the growth and performance of the business.

Shiny object syndrome can be equally disruptive to individuals. For example, regardless of the individual’s endeavor, it can result in many failed attempts due to a lack of goal setting and clarity on goals. The constant distraction also affects the individual’s ability to consistently invest efforts and resources into any one project, leading to anxiety and frustration in the long run.

Shiny object syndrome can become a major roadblock in many spheres of an individual’s work life such as education, career, personal relationships, etc.

Causes of shiny object syndrome

Most of the causes of shiny object syndrome are cognitive. Sometimes it can be caused by an array of interrelated factors.

Below are some of the most common causes of shiny object syndrome:

Lack of focus and discipline

Usually, the symptoms and causes of shiny object syndrome are interrelated, with one causing the other. Lack of focus and direction can cause individuals and businesses to be distracted by every new idea on the horizon. This, in turn, causes the loss of focus, clarity, and discipline in sticking with the current goal or task at hand.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

The fear of missing out, or the perception of being excluded from something exciting or interesting, can lead to anxiety and ultimately manifest as shiny object syndrome.

Inadequate planning and unclear goals

Shiny object syndrome is often the result of a lack of clear, well-defined goals in tandem with poor planning. Both of these factors result in a lack of focus, attention, and clarity, amplifying the shiny object syndrome.

How to overcome shiny object syndrome

Shiny object syndrome, though highly detrimental, can be overcome or cured by taking some measures or steps. It might be slightly different for individuals and businesses, so outlining here the steps to overcome this syndrome as applicable to both groups:

For individuals

Individuals can make strides toward overcoming shiny object syndrome by taking the following steps:

  1. Prioritize and focus on core goals and objectives
  2. Take accountability and stick to a plan
  3. Practice discipline and self-control

1. Prioritize and focus on core goals and objectives

The first step to avoid getting pulled in different directions by shiny object syndrome is to work with a plan. Having a well-defined plan can provide a clear sense of direction and make it much easier to determine the next steps. It provides a way forward and a reference point so you can consciously avoid deviating from the path laid out.

2. Bring in accountability and stick to a plan

Once you have a plan, hold yourself accountable to it. Creating a plan is easy; sticking to it is the hard part.

It’s important to have levers/measures in place to hold yourself accountable to the plan and curtail all distractions. It helps to surround yourself with people who will remind you to stay on course.

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3. Practice discipline and self-control

At the end of the day, your ability to avoid succumbing to shiny object syndrome boils down to your discipline and self-control. It’s incumbent upon the individual to adopt the methods described above and work toward overcoming SOS intrinsically.

For businesses

Businesses face more complex challenges and thus must

  1. Research the shiny idea further
  2. Evaluate the idea against the company’s vision and mission
  3. Set KPIs

1. Research the shiny idea further

The key to understanding the new shiny idea is to gather as much knowledge as possible through research. Understand and delve into all facets of the idea and gather enough information to help you understand it completely.

2. Evaluate the idea against the company’s vision and mission

Once you have enough information about the shiny new idea, evaluate it and ascertain whether it aligns with your business’s mission and vision. Does it further the company’s goals and objectives? This is the most direct way to discern a valuable idea from a mere distraction.

3. Set KPIs

To ensure the success of a business idea, it is important to establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the overall vision and goals. Regularly evaluating progress against these KPIs can prevent major deviations and keep the company on track to achieve its objectives.

Is shiny object syndrome always bad?

Shiny object syndrome doesn’t have to be entirely detrimental if you use it in the right way to enhance and fortify your approach to innovation and continuous improvement.

Here are some ways to make shiny object syndrome work in your favor:

Embrace change as an opportunity for growth and learning

Understanding new ideas and innovations in the market can help you gauge your current position and provide an objective view of areas where you can improve. In all likelihood, there’s something you can learn from alternate ideas and approaches. And the alternate path is more lucrative or beneficial, you’ll want to embrace it and progress accordingly.

Be open-minded and flexible while staying focused on core goals

As a general rule, you should always be open to considering and evaluating new ideas. A mix of steadfast focus on big-picture goals and flexibility to adapt to changing requirements is the secret sauce to achieving success.

Even if you don’t end up adopting new ideas, understanding them can shine a light on areas where your product may be lacking.

Seek out new opportunities while avoiding the pitfalls of SOS

Shiny object syndrome occurs when new ideas are used in the wrong way — when they cause you to lose focus on the objectives at hand.

That said, the same instincts that cause shiny object syndrome, when harnessed for good, can help you embrace a growth mindset and strive for continuous improvement, be it on an individual basis or at the organizational level.

Celebrate successes and learn from failures

Shiny object syndrome teaches us that failures are the stepping stones to success. After all, you only know what you know.

By making mistakes, we learn what pitfalls to avoid in the future and how to improve our tactics on each subsequent attempt. That way, with every failure, you inch closer to success.

Featured image source: IconScout

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Anjana Rao Product and tech leader. Reader. Traveller. Author. Coach.

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