Shiny New Thing Syndrome – Definition:
Shiny new thing syndrome is when businesses place too much emphasis on implementing the latest technology or following new trends and not enough attention on getting the basics right. It describes how business people are often too focused on new trends or ideas, and also move onto the next initiative too quickly. This means too little resource and attention is given to making sure the basics work (e.g. usability and reliability) and insufficient time is allowed for new initiatives to work properly.
The risk here is that your business flits from one new thing or fad to another, and it lacks the ability to get the most out of existing tools and infrastructure. It also fails to learn from mistakes and optimise solutions after they have been implemented. This can lead to a business that doesn’t excel at anything because no one gets credit for fixing the basics.
What drives shiny new thing syndrome?
Shiny new thing syndrome occurs in every sector and activity. It may be more common in services and tech sectors which are being disrupted by technology because there are more visible new ideas and developments in such industries. It can be driven by the perceived risk of not changing and not keeping up with the latest trends.
Cognitive biases are a major driver of shiny new thing syndrome because decision making is especially problematic when people are faced with uncertainty or don’t have experience of something. In such situations people are prone to following their gut instinct, which is heavily influenced by cognitive biases.
One such bias is survivorship bias. This can result is people focussing on the characteristics of successful people or businesses as we believe they reflect why they have achieved what they have. This ignores the fact that any process changes a person or business and so it can be more useful to learn from the mistakes made by those that didn’t succeed.
Our herd instinct is a major cause of shiny new thing syndrome because people are wired to copy other people on the basis they may know something that we don’t. The bandwagon effect is one example of this where people follow a trend because of the popularity of an idea or behaviour. Unfortunately, where there is no tangible advantage of the new trend it can cause more harm than good.
Most organisations use small teams of managers to set goals and define targets. In addition, loyalty to the CEO is often seen as more important than competence and so this can lead to a culture in which groupthink can flourish. If no one challenges the direction being taken and the priorities set it is difficult for business leaders to stay in touch with how well the core business is performing.
Poorly aligned targets and the obsession with KPIs can also drive shiny new thing syndrome because people will often change their behaviour to meet KPIs. The Cobra effect means that it’s important to carefully align targets to the primary business goal as otherwise people will create projects which conflict with the aim of the organisation.
Rewards and recognition. Many organisations naturally give more credit and reward people for delivering on new ideas rather than fixing existing problems. This is often caused by goals and targets set by management which focus on their pet projects rather than considering the wider business needs.
An obsession with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can encourage this behaviour because they also tend to focus on delivering new stuff. KPIs can lead to less agility because they reduce your ability to to respond to problems with existing systems or processes.
How to avoid the syndrome?
Focus on what’s best for your customer. A customer centric approach tends to force companies to pay attention to the little details and fix things when they go wrong. It is also more difficult to move on too quickly if you are actively seeking feedback on how a change or new development has been received by customers.
Don’t follow trends unless you have evidence to indicate it will be positively received by customers or will provide some other benefit to the customer or business. If possible A/B test it on your website first to understand whether it will really improve your North Star metric or not.
When a new solution or user experience is implemented it’s important to monitor performance and tweak it as you get data and evidence to support optimisation activities. Give it time to settle in and don’t assume it has been optimally implemented. Use agile teams to deliver a minimum viable product and then resource it to improve it according to customer needs and feedback.
Ensure you recruit people for diversity rather than to fit a certain profile of employee. Encourage people to challenge ideas and strategies in a way that won’t harm their career progression. Create a range of ways for staff and managers to provide honest feedback on what they think the business priorities and goals should be. Create a culture which encourages experimentation, feedback and reflection to avoid groupthink.
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