Chasing shiny objects: the dangers of distractions when running a small business

Chasing Shiny Objects: The Dangers of Distractions When Running a Small Business

When running a small business, there’s always something new. Something different. Something exciting.

Let me start out by saying new is good. Innovative is smart. But busy-work chasing after things because someone – maybe even you – had an “Oooohhh. That looks pretty” moment is not good. It’s not smart.

Tackling all of those new and exciting opportunities can lead to what Shakespeare best named “Madly off in all directions.”

As a small business owner, it is your job to direct and inspire, not distract your employees by blowing a bunch of pretty bubbles into the air and yelling “catch!

You’ve probably seen this happen in office comedies, the scene where the boss walks in and talks about the dream they had the night before which has suddenly changed the direction of the company. As funny as that seems in a comedy, it’s not nearly as funny in person.  Believe me, I’ve had it happen.

And it’s really not funny when it happens over and over and over again.

Other examples of the same scenario:

“I read this article last night about this neat new marketing tactic. We should do that!”


“I saw this ad from another company. It looked really cool. We should make one like it.”


“This company reached out and they can do super great things for us, we should test them out.”


“I was planning my wedding and the wedding planner suggested a neato thing for our reception, and I thought… hey… we should offer that to our customers!”

The list, unfortunately, goes on.

This is a small business management style that has been aptly coined The Shiny Object Syndrome

Some see this as an ingrained part of the small business culture, an extension of the try, fail, try again mentality that fuels business success. Some actually see this as a good thing.

But – unless you have a huge bucket of venture capital behind you and unlimited resources – a “try and everything and fail at most of them” attitude is not only a bad way to use your resources, it’s a bad way to treat your employees.

Shiny object management can leave your staff overworked, stressed out, and – possibly worse – confused about your company’s strategic directions.

The smart small business owner knows that the challenge is to balance the drive for growth with a clear head about what can and will drive the business forward and what is just another shiny object.

After all – even if this digital world – just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Small Business Distractions

Yes, new and exciting marketing, sales, and business tactics can be fun. They can be distracting in a good way. The challenge is to balance the need for growth by any means with a clear-headed judgment about where to focus your time, energy, and budget.

Innovation is like toilet paper.
Too little, and you’re in trouble.
Too much, and you’re clogging up the pipes. 

So, how does one take some of the shine off some of those shiny objects?

Using another time-honored saying “All that glitters is not golden” — a good business owner’s primary objective is to ask themselves three key questions before taking on some glittery new project.

1. What is the potential upside?

You can’t take the salesperson’s word for it. After all, their job is to make their product or service sound amazing.

Take a realistic look at the top and the bottom of the scale of what the new opportunity can drive.

That could quality leads, it could be followers on social media, it could be sales. Whatever the end goal of this new initiative, take a look at the expectations with three lenses.

  1. Optimistic
  2. Pessimistic
  3. Realistic

That will give you a reasonable range of what the new program could work if it does work.

2. What is the potential downside?

What happens if the program completely fails? And I mean Showgirls-level bombs.

Don’t get me wrong, I would never recommend avoiding something out of fear of failure.

Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.  – Babe Ruth Quote

BUT… you should be afraid of creating a pattern of failure that puts all the work and the blame on your employees – but gives them none of the autonomy or authority to come up with ideas on their own.

And it’s important to understand the full cost of those failures. Not only because of the potential hard cost or expense of this attempt, but also because of the time, effort, and distraction that might have taken you and your employees away from other projects.

Finally, does yet another failure that someone – maybe even you – forced onto a team that didn’t think it would work in the first place… a team they didn’t listen to… create a sense of mistrust that is the biggest of all possible failures?

Does it suit your business?

I’m not saying that your business isn’t cool. Your business is possibly the coolest thing around.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that your business should try to become Instafamous.

Yes, I know that another company had an advertisement on Instagram that looked really peachy. But maybe… and I’m just saying maybe… that company is better suited to the Instagram audience than yours.

Not every cool thing out there will be suitable for your company, no matter how cool your company is.

Speak the truth, but leave immediately after. – Unknown

You may be accused of being difficult. You may be accused of pushing back or hindering progress. You may be accused of being old school and boring.

Eventually, you will be thanked for being right. Even if the person doing the thanking is you.

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