What Is Shiny Object Syndrome And Why Does It Matter?


I’m going to describe a scenario you’ll definitely relate to. It may have happened with your boss, your client or even your partner.

We call it Shiny Object Syndrome, and it really matters.

Imagine you’re off executing a new project for your job, or your business. This project is collaborative, and hinges on the approval of someone else.

Or maybe it’s something closer to home. Maybe it’s you and your partner (who depending on your particular dynamic, could well double as your client).

And in this scenario, the project is a new bathroom you’ve been planning in great detail.

Either way, there’s a problem to be solved, and your project is the solution. For this you have an agreed objective, budget, strategy and a timeline.

Now you’re a pragmatic person, and you understand the importance of keeping everything on track. You’re governed by practicality and purpose.

However in many cases those we serve, are often passionate, would-be visionaries.

Sometimes they’re entrepreneurs or artists. Some struggle to delegate, or find it difficult to rely on the expertise of others.

But here you are, toiling away all the same, and you’re making progress.

You’re all in agreement about the way forward. It makes sense and is on budget and on time. The end is in sight.

Suddenly everything changes. The night before, your boss/client/partner saw something amazing.

It might have been an Apple commercial on TV.

Or a product they spotted in a shop window.

Or a photo on social media.

Whatever it is, they’ve decided it’s fantastic, and they now want to change the project to follow suit.

They’ve not got Shiny Object Syndrome. A title due to the allure of all things that sparkle. And if it goes unmanaged, it could spell doom for your project.

Bad in means bad out

Shiny Object Syndrome is a distraction. It’s concerned with execution, not strategy.

Your boss/client/partner isn’t in the same space as Apple. They don’t have the same customers, history or expertise. Why would a similar execution be appropriate?

You’re months into planning a new bathroom based on your budget, and the night before you order it, your partner hits the brakes because of a celebrity bathroom they saw on Instagram?

The most likely outcome from this is no bathroom.

Every creative or marketing decision we make on a project, should have a business rationale.

Instead of knee-jerk, subjective observations (“I like the colour blue”), we should be making objective, customer-focused ones (“our customers like the colour blue”).

It’s them – customers, fans and audiences – we all ultimately serve.

Here’s what the perils of Shiny Object Syndrome can cost a business or venture:

  • Confusion – a sudden pivot on a project can affect a team, or even a whole business
  • Budget – jumping from one solution to another is going to burn up resource and time, neither of which comes cheap
  • Inability to execute – projects often get mired by indecision, sometimes even abandoned

How to stay on track

How do we counter this issue? The solution is to make rationale the driving force behind every project.

  1. Set a clear objective. If the most important thing for a new bathroom is that it meets a certain budget, this should be your main strategic objective. All decisions should run through this filter. Does the goal of having a bathroom that resembles Lady Gaga’s bathroom meet your main strategic objective? If not, discard the goal.
  2. Understand the audience. Once a client of mine continually referenced a magazine, in relation to the look of a catalogue. But unless such a catalogue is being marketed to the same readership (which it wasn’t), we’re better off considering our own target audience.
  3. Communicate. If your client/boss/partner has a sudden change of heart, the worst thing we can do is to begrudgingly accommodate. If it all goes wrong we’ll likely be blamed anyway. Instead, try to talk it out, and make a case for rationale. And if all else fails, make sure your objections have been heard and noted.

Having said all of this Shiny Object Syndrome doesn’t have to be a terminal affliction. And it’s quite understandable that in trying to do good work, that we look to those who do the best work.

We just have to understand the distinction between strategy and execution. Between theirs and ours.

And by considering why we do what we do, and who we actually do it for, we can create better projects, relationships and businesses.

– Greg Bunbury

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

3 + 1 =