Many entrepreneurs are far too familiar with shiny object syndrome. Let’s dig into what it is, why it happens, and how you can use it as a benefit—rather than a distraction.
You own and operate your own business. You have your bread and butter offerings and processes pretty well systemized, and things are going well.
Suddenly, a brand new marketing strategy catches your eye. You learn more about it and then immediately begin implementing it for your own business.
But, while you’re in the process of getting that rolling, you’re inspired with an idea for a new product you could add to your existing offerings. So, you set the wheels in motion to get that launched.
Right when you’re in the thick of that process, you hear about this new piece of technology that you’re convinced could seriously streamline the way you work. You sign up for that, and then you hear about…
Do you see where this is going? Does this scenario sound familiar?
If you’re nodding, you aren’t alone. If there’s one thing we all know about entrepreneurs, it’s that they have many talents—but sitting still isn’t one of them.
In many ways, their constant drive to keep an eye out for the next latest and greatest thing—something that’s lovingly been coined “shiny object syndrome” by numerous experts and entrepreneurs—serves them well in their businesses.
It’s that very characteristic that enables them to innovate and scale.
However, if they’re not careful, it can also sabotage them by constantly distracting them from the core mission of their business.
Cue the screams and the horror movie soundtrack.
Alright, that’s a bit dramatic. Shiny object syndrome is something that comes along with the territory when you’re an entrepreneur.
But, as long as you know how to appropriately manage (and even leverage) it, it really doesn’t need to be the stuff of nightmares. In fact, it can actually be a good thing.
With that in mind, let’s dig into everything you need to know about shiny object syndrome—including what it is, how to recognize it within yourself, and how you can make the most of it.
So…What Exactly is Shiny Object Syndrome?
“I see shiny object syndrome as a natural byproduct of a career as an entrepreneur,” explains Brian Casel, Entrepreneur.
It’s the sense that there are always new ideas and new opportunities to go after, coupled with a sense (rightly or wrongly) that there is an urgency to tackle those ideas right now—possibly at the expense of focusing on your primary or current business.
Shiny object syndrome’s name itself is rooted in constant distraction. Think of a small child who’s happily playing with a toy—until their eye catches something shiny and new in the corner. What happens? In all likelihood, they promptly abandon whatever they were just playing with in order to go over and grab that irresistible shiny object.
Entrepreneurs can fall into a very similar attitude. Because they always have an eye on what’s next for their businesses, it’s increasingly easy for them to constantly get distracted by whatever shiny object is lurking in the corner.
Is Shiny Object Syndrome a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
A lot of the chatter about shiny object syndrome in entrepreneurship frames it in a negative light. And, there’s definitely merit to those claims.
Too much distraction means you’re never really getting anything accomplished. You’re ping-ponging from idea to idea. You’re starting projects you’ll never finish and launching initiatives you’ll never follow through on.
Additionally, giving into shiny object syndrome too early in your career as an entrepreneur can be a detriment, as you haven’t taken the time to establish yourself as an expert or get your footing in your current business.
“It’s when we have stayed faithful and true to our own ability and skill set and established ourselves as credible and knowledgeable should we venture and experiment with one or two elements that may evolve our product or service,” warns Mark Sephton, Personal Mentor to Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurial Influencer.
But, does this mean that shiny object syndrome is inherently bad? Definitely not. In fact, many argue that it’s a core piece of entrepreneurship. It’s what drives business growth, provided you’re equipped to deal with it effectively.
“It’s important to remember the power of focus and giving your full attention to your project or business at hand,” says Casel.
“But, at the same time, most businesses need to keep changing and evolving in order to grow or adapt with changes in their market. If you aren’t willing to be open to new ideas, and be open to pursuing them at the right time, then that exposes you to other risks like stagnation, competition, and market forces.”
We all need to have our eyes open for the next big thing. There are financial opportunities and opportunities to impact and influence.
“So, while it’s not inherently bad, you do need a sense of maturity and understand your own mission to not be constantly swayed by the next new thing.”
What Are Some Symptoms of Shiny Object Syndrome?
Because shiny object syndrome resides in these murky waters of being sometimes positive and sometimes negative, it’s increasingly tough to recognize whether or not you’re struggling with it.
Are you just creatively inspired or are you unfocused? Do you have a lot of balls in the air or simply a lot of loose ends? Are you pushing your business in the right direction or only sabotaging your own success?
It’s challenging to figure out which side of the line you’re on. But, here are three telltale symptoms that your shiny object syndrome is becoming a problem for you.
1. You have dozens of unfinished projects.
You’re energized by new ideas—but, that means you’re constantly starting new things and never finishing them.
Take an honest look at the work you’ve done over the last six months to a year. Do you see a lot of projects that you never actually followed through on? Ideas that you abandoned shortly after discovering them?
A little bit of that is expected when you’re an entrepreneur—not every idea will pan out. But, if you look to your history and see a long string of forgotten initiatives, that’s a solid indicator that shiny object syndrome is serving as a major distraction.
2. You’re always changing the way you do things.
Nobody can blame you for wanting to find the most efficient way to get things done. However, constantly introducing new tools and workflows can actually do the opposite of what you intend—it slows you down, rather than saving you time and energy.
Are you constantly introducing new platforms, hacks, and other tricks to supposedly optimize your workday?
Have you never had a repeatable process in place for getting specific projects accomplished?
Listen, most entrepreneurs get excited about new technology or systems—especially if they promise to save them some precious time. But, if you’ve never had even a somewhat consistent way of getting your work accomplished, chances are good shiny object syndrome is getting in your way.
3. You can’t stay focused on what you actually need to be completing.
Let’s say that you’ve developed your own online business creating templated website designs for nonprofits. That’s the core service of your business, and you know that you should be spending at least half of your time creating new designs.
However, every time you sit down to work on a new design, you find yourself getting waylaid by different tasks and activities you’d rather be working on.
If you’re neglecting some of your most crucial business activities because you’re too enticed by shiny objects, it’s obvious that your shiny object syndrome is controlling you—rather than the other way around.
How to Use Shiny Object Syndrome to Your Advantage
If you’re struggling with one or all of the above three symptoms we outlined, then you know it’s time to get your shiny object syndrome in check.
But, here’s the most challenging question: How are you supposed to do that? When a dose of this attitude is positive but a heaping serving can be deadly, how can you strike that delicate balance?
Well, there are a few strategies you can use to capitalize on your constant desire for the latest and greatest—without it disrupting your work or threatening the health of your business.
1. Remember that timing is everything.
Shiny object syndrome is most destructive when it’s ripping your attention from something that’s more urgent or critical. So, as with so many things, considering your timing is crucial when figuring out whether or not now is a time you can focus on something new.
Do you already have numerous pressing projects demanding your time and energy?
Have you given what’s already on your plate enough attention?
“Maybe you haven’t given your current thing enough time and focus to get the traction it needs to reach its potential,” Casel says. “Chasing a shiny object at this time can be a distraction that leads to problems on all fronts.”
2. Check your reasoning.
There are plenty of different reasons why you might want to pursue a shiny object. Maybe you think it’d meet a serious need for your customers. Or, perhaps it’d take your business in a direction that you’ve been wanting to head in for a while.
Those are valid reasons to try something new. But, too often, entrepreneurs give into shiny object syndrome because they’re running away from something—rather than toward something.
“Sometimes frustration with your current business can lead to shiny object syndrome,” Casel explains. “It feels easier and more fun to start up new ideas than to hunker down and work on fixing problems in your current business. I’ve been there. The key is to be aware of this and know it when you see it.”
3. Find a way to complement your current business.
Shiny object syndrome is an especially positive thing when it improves or grows your existing business, as opposed to taking you in a completely different direction from what you’re currently working on.
So, whenever it’s possible, see if you can channel your desire for something new and exciting into something that will positively benefit your existing business or customer base.
“Add a complementary product that can be sold to the same customer base,” advises Casel. “I’ve made the mistake of trying to run two or more different businesses marketing to two completely different customers, and that’s a near-impossible uphill battle.”
4. Challenge yourself to explain the benefits of those shiny objects.
You know that new thing that you’re eager to explore or add to your business? Here’s a challenge: Explain a clear reason why you want to pursue that—beyond the fact that you think it’ll be exciting.
“You have to decide if the latest shiny object will improve the customer experience for your clients or increase the potential for you to sell and make more profit,” adds Sephton.
Outside of income alone, could it help you hone a necessary skill? Will it strengthen your brand or your relationships? Will it solve a problem in your business?
Put simply, as with any other business decision, you should be able to point to a direct benefit of that activity. That simple exercise will help you weed out the frivolous shiny objects and focus on the ones that actually move the needle for your business.
5. Build a community of trusted advisors.
As an entrepreneur, you can get so wrapped up in your own head that you aren’t thinking clearly—you’re too close to the situation to think about it objectively.
When in doubt, it’s time to phone a friend, so to speak. “Being part of a small mastermind group can be very helpful,” says Casel.
“They can be a good sanity check and poke holes in your logic around, ‘Why this idea?’ and ‘Why now?’ Sometimes you have good answers to those questions, and it’s worth pursuing.”
Tackling Today While Keeping an Eye on Tomorrow
Here’s the thing about being an entrepreneur: You’re the one in charge. Yes, you can call in reinforcements to help give you a gut check about whether or not an idea is worth chasing, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether or not to pursue something new.
So much of entrepreneurship is about trusting yourself. And, that’s something that’s learned—but not necessarily taught. Ask any entrepreneur, and they’ll tell you there’s plenty of trial and error involved.
So, use the above strategies as a starting point, and you’ll start to develop some criteria for which shiny objects are worth your time and which ones are better left alone. Still confused? Take a deep breath and give yourself some time to think it over.
“The only race we face as entrepreneurs and human beings is the race against ourselves,” concludes Sephton. “It’s really a question of taking your ability and maximizing your potential.”