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Do You Have 'Shiny Object' Syndrome? What It Is and How to Beat It

Fortunately, it's not a diagnosable affliction, but it can make you take your business down the wrong path.
Do You Have 'Shiny Object' Syndrome? What It Is and How to Beat It
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As an entrepreneur juggling many different responsibilities, you'll likely find that any illness will seriously set you back temporarily while you recover. But there’s one that may have powerful, lasting effects on your business -- and extend far beyond a simple day or two of absence.

Related: 5 Big Distractions That Sabotage Your Entrepreneurial Success

It’s called “shiny object syndrome,” and if it’s plaguing you, you’ll need to take action if you want your business to thrive.

"Shiny object syndrome" in action

At its core, shiny object syndrome (SOS) is a disease of distraction, and it affects entrepreneurs specifically because of the qualities that make them unique. Entrepreneurs tend to be highly motivated. They crave new technology and new developments. And they aren’t afraid to start new projects and create new things.

Ordinarily, these are great characteristics, but when SOS sets in, it forces you to chase project after project, and change after change, never settling with one option.

It’s called shiny object syndrome because it’s the entrepreneurial equivalent of a small child chasing after shiny objects. Once they get there and see what the object is, they immediately lose interest and start chasing the next thing. For entrepreneurs, rather than literal shiny objects, SBOs may be business objectives, marketing strategies, clients or even other business ventures.

When SOS gets bad

Wanting to keep your business updated, and staying abreast of new possibilities, aren’t inherently bad goals. However, when SOS becomes rampant, entrepreneurs experience some or all of these serious drawbacks:

  • Inability to finish projects. When you get excited about a new project before your first one is complete, you may jump ship before you can see any meaningful results. For example, if you invest in an SEO strategy for a month or two, then switch to a different strategy altogether, you’ll never get to see the long-term benefits of maintaining an SEO strategy properly.
  • Poorly planning your ideas and directives. People with SOS tend to focus on the novelty of pursuing a given strategy, or making a specific change, rather than the strategy or change itself. For example, they may love the idea of creating a new product and begin work on developing it, but with no long-term game plan on how to follow through on that idea. This leads to underdeveloped executions and unrealized potential.
  • Burning through cash. There are hundreds of technological tools for businesses that are impressive, effective and downright fun to use. Unfortunately, if you subscribe to all those services, or you jump from platform to platform, you’ll end up burning through so much cash that these tools become incredibly cost-inefficient.
  • Confusing your staff. You aren’t the only one affected by your decisions and constantly alternating momentum. If you change your business’s direction too frequently, your staffers won’t be able to keep up. They’ll see projects they’re working on suddenly become irrelevant when a new detail emerges, or see their goals shift almost unpredictably. Over time, this can cause serious disruptions in employee loyalty and productivity.

Related: 5 Distractions That Stunt Your Business

How to overcome it

So, what can you do to beat SOS?

  • Sit on ideas before launching them. Before you have your team begin work on that new project that’s going to “change everything,” take a moment. Do some more research on the idea and think about whether this is the best use of your company’s resources. Not every idea should be acted upon, and giving yourself this “buffer time” can spare you from an overly hasty decision.
  • Communicate with your team. When you have a new idea, talk to your team members about it. Ask them what they think, and listen to their perspectives, concerns and needs. They’ll be able to help you realize when you’re moving too fast, and if you do decide to go through with your decision, they’ll be happier that you came to them first.
  • Set both long- and short-term goals with each new project. Slow down when you start to shift gears. Set long-term goals for every project, including how long you anticipate the project will last. Set short-term goals to help you close that gap and keep the team focused.
  • Abandon projects only when necessary. Once your long-term goals are in place, don’t abandon the project until you get there. The only exceptions would be if your project starts costing you far more money than anticipated, or the landscape has changed significantly enough to undermine the project's effectiveness entirely.

Related: Policing Your Productivity: 7 Tools to Help You Focus

Fortunately, SOS isn’t a diagnosable affliction. It’s a problem with how you think about your business, and how you choose to develop it. Accordingly, once you realize you have these tendencies, you can start to correct them and compensate for them, ultimately forging a more consistent, reliable path forward for your business.

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