Have you ever seen the movie Up? In it, there’s a scene where a talking dog (he has a collar that translates his thoughts) is explaining his voice, only to be derailed by the passing of a squirrel. You may know this example as “shiny object syndrome.” Whatever you call it, it’s becoming a big problem for businesses and entrepreneurs. Here’s why and what you can do about it if it’s interfering with your success.
The Escalating Problem of Squirrels
Experts argue over whether our attention spans are diminishing or not, but the one thing we know is true as business owners, there are a greater number of things distracting us. New social media platforms are popping up. Gurus tell you there are newsletters to be written and sent, podcasts to be recorded, conferences to attend, and a host of other things that are “guaranteed” to improve our businesses.
There are only so many hours in the day, and you can’t do everything. How’s a businessperson supposed to choose? What path should they navigate or what tasks should they undertake for success?
Why Is Shiny Bad for Business?
Chasing squirrels or shiny object syndrome entices business owners to pursue business success in a non-goal-oriented way. In these cases, your eye is continually drawn to the glimmer, the new trend, the quick answer to revenue. These things can be exciting (and distracting) with promises of easy wins. Business owners who pursue them often get halfway down a path and then either lose interest or they realize they simply can’t keep up. Have you ever recorded a few episodes of a podcast only to abandon it when you learn you don’t have the time to market yet another thing? Don’t beat yourself up. Any innovative, creative leader can be drawn in, especially when the leadership push these days is innovation and failing fast.
Finding the right mixture for business success can feel like heading up a squirrel rodeo. If you’re pulled in many directions and find yourself wondering where the path to business success is, you need to stop chasing squirrels and focus on the nuts.
Stop Chasing Squirrels
Here are some suggestions on how you can cut down on chasing after the quickest-moving thing:
Know your goals. Define your business goals succinctly and specifically. Use SMART goals.
Create a roadmap that aligns with your core values and objectives. Your roadmap/strategy plan should guide and help you evaluate new opportunities more objectively. Ask yourself if the new idea or project directly contributes to your vision and if it aligns with your overall goals. If it doesn't, ignore it.
Prioritize your tasks. Create a list of initiatives that are critical to achieving your goals. Evaluate each task based on its potential impact and feasibility and rank them accordingly. This prioritization process will help you stay focused on what matters most, enabling you to allocate your time, energy, and resources effectively. When new opportunities arise, evaluate their impact against your prioritized list, and only consider taking them on if they offer significant advantages over your existing projects.
Research. Before chasing the next shiny thing or squirrel that comes across your path, learn more about it. After doing some digging, it may lose its appeal.
Explore the time available. Be honest about the time you have to dedicate to making this new squirrel a valuable part of your marketing mix (or wherever it fits). Do you have the time to learn the new task, market it, and see it through to completion and success? If not, pass on it. If you’re sure it’s a good opportunity and don’t want to drop it, then you’ll have to give something else up that you’re currently doing. That will free up time to make the new idea a success.
Ditch the quick success idea. Blame it on the lottery or the viral social media posts, but many of us still have an attachment to instant celebrity. We take on new marketing tasks with the same passion we exhibit in Vegas. We’re going to win big on this next turn. Just wait! In reality, most of us end up wasting time and money instead. This viral mentality is getting in your way.
Stay committed. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know one good day of eating healthy and exercising doesn’t do it. It’s a culmination of several different activities, followed through on over time. It can be a frustratingly long process. Along the way, many well-meaning people will give you quick weight loss tips that sound too good to be true. Business success can feel the same way. Stick to your goals and only adjust or pivot when the squirrel or shiny object comes with a sound business reason to do so.
Chasing squirrels (or shiny object syndrome) can be a significant obstacle to long-term success in business. Remember, success comes from staying focused, charting progress, and making deliberate choices aligned with your core objectives. You cannot do it all or you will spread yourself too thin to be successful at any of it. By implementing these strategies, you can steer your business toward sustainable growth and achieve the outcomes you aspire to with fewer distractions and more nuts stored up for winter.
Christina Metcalf is a writer/ghostwriter who believes in the power of story. She works with small businesses, chambers of commerce, and business professionals who want to make an impression and grow a loyal customer/member base. She loves road trips, hates exclamation points, and has been known to suffer from wanting to do all the things.