Entrepreneurs and...Hey, There's A Shiny New Thing!

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Entrepreneurs and...Hey, There's A Shiny New Thing!


If you’re one of those rare entrepreneurs that has the discipline to stay reasonably focused on what you should be working on, feel free to skip the rest of this article with the comforting knowledge that you have my admiration and envy.

But, if you’re like most of us, you are probably plauged at one time or another by the “Shiny New Thing” (SNT) bug.  This particular syndrome is pretty easy to describe.  There you are, minding your own business (literally) and working on your startup.  Then all of a sudden, BAM!  Some shiny new thing comes along and tries to distract you.  You either get distracted, or you stay up nights wondering if you should have gotten distracted.  If you’re like me (my sympathies if you are), you have this experience quite frequently.  I think it harkens back to our childhood days when just about any shiny new thing would immediately grab our attention. [Hence the toy robot photo, blog image selection is not a core competency.]

There are various manifestations of this Shiny New Thing (SNT) phenomenon.  Here are a few:

1.  New technology/platform/language/framework:  This applies mostly to developers.  There you are coding away on your project, and this article comes up in Google Reader about this new paradigm-driven-framework.  BAM!  It’s so cool!  It could change everything!  It could make you 10X more productive!  So, you immediately start conjuring up ways to use that shiny new thing in whatever you happen to be working on at this point in time. 

2.  New market/customers/industry:  Your startup has a market, you probably even have some of the product developed.  You’re making sales, albeit things are going a little slower than you hoped.  Then, you read a blog article somewhere and BAM!  You think of this new market that you could go after.  And, brilliant technologist that you are, you’ve already developed your existing product such that with just a few small tweaks you could go after this new market pretty easily.  In fact, the beauty of it is that you don’t even have to give give up your existing market/customer/industry.  You can do this one too!  If one market is good, two has got to be better, right?  Right?

3.  New Feature/Application/Product:  Your existing product is cranking along.  The few customers/users you have seem to be happy.  You’re signing up more people.  You’re supporting your users.  You’re truckin’ along.  Then BAM!  You get this idea for a shiny, new feature or product to add to your arsenal.  You pause briefly to ponder whether the legal services industry really needs an ERP app for the iPhone.  But hey, you know this industry really well, and your best customer has a daughter who has an iPhone.  You’re just a little “ahead of the market”, right.  Right? 

3.  New Company:  There you are, cranking along.  And, you just kind of start getting bored.  Your idea was really cool and got you all fired up in the morning.  It was so shiny, new back then.  But alas, it’s just not that shiny any more.  The idea is sooo last month.  It’s really hard to be passionate about it now.  You’ve got to absolutely love what you’re doing, every day, right?  It’s a waste of time to stick to something that you’re just not excited about, isn’t it?  And then, BAM!  You come up with this new startup idea.  It’s bright!  It’s shiny!  Life is good again. 

So, you get the idea.  If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’ve been hit by some variation of the above Shiny New Thing bug at some point.  Unfortunately, when you get hit with it, it’s rarely in the exaggerated, “Boy, that’s a supid thing to do, I would never do that” kind of way as the above examples illustrate.  The SNT bug is usually much more subtle and insidious than that.  It’s why it infects so many smart, rational entrepreneurs — and me. 

What makes this problem a problem is that it is rare that going after the  Shiny New Thing is going to increase your oddds of success (however you define it).  Most of the time, it’s a distraction.  The rest of the time, it’s usually a major distraction.  To really succeed and get things done, you’re going to need to stick to something and get the basic machinery “working” and plug away at it.  Good ideas take time.  Great ideas take even more time.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you be stubborn about your idea, business model, product, whatever.  Far from it.  I’m a big fan of the agile approach to startups.  But, there’s a difference between iterating on an existing thing and being distracted by a Shiny New Thing. 

So, here’s my advice to you the next time you see the Shiny New Thing bug buzzing around your head as you’re trying to get real work done.  Ask yourself the following 4 questions:

1.  Am I simply intrigued by the shininess and newness, or is there really a there, there? 

2.  What would I need to know and what minimal questions would I need answered to figure out whether this Shiny New Thing is worth my attention?

3.  How long will it reasonably take me to figure out what I need to know?  Can I even afford that investment?  How does it impact what I’m doing now? 

4.  Should I go ahead and….Hey wait!  As I was writing this, I just came across another topic for this blog as a result of something on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  Must…try…to…resist…shiny…new…thing.  Oh no…it’s too…shinyyyyyyyy....[click]

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Thu, Sep 25, 2008


Brilliant as usual. I know this problem well

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 1:11 PM by Mark Opausky

Bulls Eye ... I was discussing it my co-founder yesterday on why do I keep on getting these new product and new venture ideas, instead of focussing on my current stuff.. Is there something wrong with me? During our discussion we came to conclusion that may be we are seeing more opportunities in different contexts but Now I know, the root cause is different.. 
It's very easy to get distracted by SNT, and god knows how many times I have done that in the past, Even I have stopped counting now. 
Next time I would surely be asking myself these four questions before I launch into any thing 
One more thing which can work is to start maintaining your Idea Book, any new SNT comes up, goes into your book without you working on it during your normal working hours. Go through the book on Sunday evening, answer the questions about each idea, grade them, and then pick up the MSNT (Most Shiny New Thing) and work on it. And regarding your idea book, try going offline rather than online.. 
Great Post Dharmesh !!

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 1:12 PM by Vikas Banga

Excellent writeup of what several of us go through. When applied to "kids" (that we all are) this "syndrome" (if you will) is called "perceptiveness". Only maturity helps you "stay on course", I guess. 
One "solution" to this might be to seek dependable hands to transfer what you do before you yield to a SNT that is too difficult to give up. Of course you are not sure of "success" (the way you define) but then you make sure that your current passion, product, customers ... is not orphaned because of this perceptiveness. I know it is hard to find someone who you trust and who might take your current venture forward, but who knows, your current thing might be that person's SNT! (You obviously have to be lucky). 

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 1:12 PM by Kedar Mhaswade

Dharmesh, great post. Completely agree with your assessment. Maybe there should be a help group for SNTS (Shiny New Thing Syndrome). It would save many entrepreneurs :) 
One thing that I found helped me get over SNTS is that when I get a new idea I take a couple hours to get all my thoughts and ideas down on paper, a brain dump per say. That way I get it out of my head which helps me think about it less. 
Then when I am done with my current company I have some inspiration to look back on for my next company.

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 2:52 PM by Brian Balfour

As you might have guessed, I have the new company/feature/market issue.  

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 3:55 PM by peter caputa

An amazinngg post Dharmesh because i am a big time victim of this syndrome and every time SNT comes up in my mind i end up appreciating and cursing myself for it. 
as kedar said "only maturity makes you stay on course" i really have felt this as for past some time i have been successfully able to curb the temptation of going ahead and developing a new product for a NEW BIGGER MARKET than my existing product :P 
i don't know whether SNTS makes or breaks an entrepreneur but it definitely dilutes the focus which kills in the long run. 
confession: i am writing all this with mixed feelings as running a product company SNT has bitten me alot of times resulting in a new product every time and alot of them never saw the day light as while or after making them i kept my focus on my main product. (and that saved me as well) but still today only i met a long time friend and he wanted to discuss some new idea with me and i after much of my fight with myself to say no to him i still said yes for a discussion next week :D ... 
could'nt help it... ;)

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 6:09 PM by Ashish Tulsian

I would add that tweaking ideas that fall within companies current focus is still OK. In other words, tacking is fine, but changing course completely could be an SNT. 
Thank you, 

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 8:10 PM by Stas Antons

aah dharmesh get out of my head!!!! this post is bang on

posted on Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 11:00 PM by akshat

This is going to my boss - who is the poster child for ADD :)

posted on Friday, September 26, 2008 at 1:13 AM by Carrie Hill

I don't remember meeting you, but you obviously know me very well! ;-) 
Great article. Spot on.

posted on Friday, September 26, 2008 at 1:34 AM by Clint Lenard

The SNT syndrome is so familiar it's scary. Here's one way to work it out: the fabric of your founding team. You need a no-man not a yes-man. 
If you're the type who gets distracted every morning then you want one of those more stubborn/skeptical types with you, who will act as a counterweight. On the one hand, stubborn-guy will filter out most of SNT-guy's crazy new ideas while on the other hand the truly good ideas surface from the discussion. It doesn't work if either side is too dominant. You've got to have a perfect balance. 
Another simple way I've found to filter out at least 50% of the SNTs is simply to stall. It's tempting to act on your idea the very morning you wake up with that figurative light-bulb over your head. Don't. Write it down. Wait a week. Let your brain process it in the background. If it's still shiny when it's not so new anymore, then it does deserve a deeper look. 

posted on Friday, September 26, 2008 at 5:22 PM by Guy Rosen

that's very interesting, Dharmesh. I think every entrepreneur at some stage does go through this. I think me and my friends did this for years! before we finally buckled down and settled down. 
Although probably unrelated to this post, I think the converse of this syndrome is probably a lack of belief; the anti-SNT. You come up with a really decent idea and then you go, 'ah well i think some guy in ohio did this, ah well forget it, my stuff is NOT the shiny new thing i was hoping it would be', only to find that someone else from texas did replicate it a few months later but just happend to do it well. and it worked. ouch!

posted on Saturday, September 27, 2008 at 1:54 PM by sri

Another very acute one. 
From the time I had earned a little money from collecting coke bottles - all the way through my 30s, I had this syndrome with hobbies. In my teens, I formed a new rule set: 
I could always research. If I thought of it every day for 30 days, I would make a small investment. If I used that small investment for more than two months on at least a weekly basis, I would invest more. 
Depending on how you look at it, it never worked or it worked exceptionally well. I have no interests except for my wife, my dog Bubba, entrepreneurialism and the web. 

posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 3:47 PM by John Stack

I agree about the shiny new thing being a killer. I do not jump on the newest bandwagon, so I have stuck with ASP 3.0, SQL Server 2000, Windows Server 2000 even as shiny new things come out of the woodwork. Why rewrite 150k lines of code in the shiny new things when you can write a whole lot of new code in the old thing that works just fine.

posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 5:02 PM by George Scott

HELLO! THANK YOU! As you can see, you've struck a nerve with many of your readers!!!  
I love Sri's advice above. Every team needs an accelerator and a brake. The accelerator is the SNT afficianado - the brake is the anti-SNT. When the two recognize the value of the other - that's when magic can happen.

posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 6:48 PM by Kathy @ Virtual Impax

Thanks to everyone for your comments and great discussion. 
Indeed, it seems this topic has struck a nerve. 
I particularly like the ideas of having an accelerator/break (counter-balancing force) and the notion of documenting ideas and sleeping on them, instead of acting too quickly. 
Good stuff.

posted on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 7:51 PM by Dharmesh Shah

It's nice to see I'm not the only one with SNT syndrome. I was starting to feel like everybody in the world (except for me) was a highly motivated, singly-focused person bent on achieving that single awesome thing for their startup. What a relief ... although that realization still doesn't help me stick to my goals.

posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 10:04 AM by Nathaniel Stoddard

ahhh, I'm already distractable - an east SNT target. 
The way I try to stay a little disciplined is keep some ideas of ways we ought to grow in mind, even (or especially) when I don't have a solution; e.g. we need distribution, or let's emphasize "the social." As we keep learning (cough reading & playing with stuff), we get ideas for how to fulfill these perceived needs. 
So, hopefully we've built some constraints into the application of the SNT. I think it might be particularly necessary when you're as much of a natural target as I am. 

posted on Tuesday, September 30, 2008 at 8:58 PM by LukeG

As someone that has SNT ideas all the time, I think that if you are having SNT ideas that is a good thing. It shows that your mind is still active, still curious, still wanting to push ahead.  
The key thing is only acting on what you should.  
For years I didn't follow my instincts and ended up seeing something like 30 of the ideas I had dismissed (or let other people tell me were no good) get implemented by other people and I'd read about them in a magazine or the internet. How many actually got done that I didn't read about? 
So I got sick of this and started doing some of the ideas I had. And the rest, I write them down and occasionally re-visit them. Many of the ideas I had 10 or 14 years ago have now been implemented by someone else and are not worth following and some of the more recent ideas, well, if I had the time... 
SNTs are not necessarily a bad thing. So long as your can resist the temptation. 
Great post Dharmesh. 

posted on Wednesday, October 01, 2008 at 6:41 PM by Stephen Kellett

I think I was infected with SNT#3 bug. A few months into our core product- ScrumPad development, I had an SNT#3 bug bite...:-) I had some of our developers start working on this another product. After couple months working on two different products at the same time, I realized that we could not focus on any. And I stopped working on the other product. I am glad that I did. However, still I get excited about SNT features and distract my team in the process. It is too tempting...:-) Agile/Scrum is helping me fight SNT
My Blog

posted on Friday, October 03, 2008 at 12:19 PM by Syed Rayhan

Love the Shiny New Things post, brought a smile to my face. Though you're right about the need to maintain control, SNTs are also a good part of what makes entrepreneurship so exciting for me. It took a long time, but like others I've devised my own filtering method so I don't miss or forget about great opportunities while remaining focused on the goal at hand. My Favorites folder is a wealth of SNT links, categorized and cross-referenced using my own mysterious brand of mental logic, and I try to review it regularly to see what pops out. 
BTW - This a great blog, with a sense of humor - possibly the greatest asset any entrepreneur can have! 
Kim Washetas 

posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2008 at 3:31 PM by Kim Washetas

Don't talk about me when I am in the room please. 
Just remember the most important lesson in life is.......oh look shinny...... 
ADD moment brought to you by  

posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 4:10 PM by Michael Kassing

SNTs are good to realize your Strengths. Every entrepreneur should go through the SNTs until breakdown. 
Its a great post.

posted on Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 9:40 AM by Rahman

I truly agree! Great Post...

posted on Monday, February 02, 2009 at 9:24 AM by Jernavis

I am glad I came across this article. I and a friend are working on multiple projects at the time, but this post explains the crazy distractions of shiny ideas which are normal, particularly the questions helped us to justify in pursuing on another shiny thing. Please read this blog article to see how we addressed the questions Idea Born Of Necessity

posted on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 3:41 PM by goit

Head On. 
I am always in that situation of SNT.. but then a few days ago.. I saw a Marshmallow test http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amsqeYOk--w ... and it helped me .. get a control on not having that marshmallow right away!

posted on Monday, September 28, 2009 at 10:33 AM by Nishant

Great post. I get requests to look into SNT's all of the time.  
Here's how I manage the Shiny New thing process with regards to product features: 
- Document: Hang a "new ideas board" somewhere in the office where folks can put new ideas on sticky notes. 
- Prioritize: Once per release iteration, work the "new ideas" into to the roadmap (or into the wastebasket!) 
- Test before invest: If you have some time (or an idle developer), do some more research or even a POC. Often times, the luster wears off after you get to know it a little better. (If you have a "labs" or "beta" area of your product, even better. Turn it on for your charter customers to try it out) 
If you live by these rules, I have found that most "new ideas" either never get to be high enough priority or they don't quite give you the ROI that you'd expect.

posted on Monday, September 28, 2009 at 12:05 PM by Craig Daniel

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