Guarding Your Focus Against Shiny Object Syndrome

Recently, I got a somewhat frantic call from a friend who said she needed help with her business. I called her back, anxious to help in whatever way I could. Her tone had led me to believe that she was in the midst of some crisis and needed immediate intervention to forestall disaster. When I did get her on the phone, she asked me, in an urgent voice, which QR code company would I recommend for her business. At first I was a little confused. Then she explained that she'd just returned from a conference in which the opening speaker had talked about the QR code "revolution" and how businesses that didn't use them would be struggling to survive.

If you are not familiar with QR codes, they are the squares that look like an orphaned bar code was errantly placed in an advertisement. Estimates are that about 3 percent of the population knows how to use one! Clearly there was no reason to obsess here; the QR code was just the most recent and shiniest object.

This has happened to all of us at some point. As entrepreneurs, we're always looking out for new strategies and technologies that might improve our businesses and increase our market share. Typically, when we find a new technology, we feel an incredible -- sometimes irrational -- sense of urgency to implement that technology. We see that it works for someone else and immediately assume it will work for us. In hindsight, such behavior seems irrational, but when you're in the moment it's nearly impossible to realize that we're succumbing to Shiny Object Syndrome.

Shiny Object Syndrome is the habit that entrepreneurs fall into of enthusiastically chasing what is new without regard for how it will shift focus, change priorities or cost precious cash, time, effort, energy and focus.

The challenge with Shiny Object Syndrome is that it can derail your focus and your business, and cost you a lot of money in the meantime. For every technology that really works to propel a business forward, there are hundreds, if not thousands, that don't. Yet entrepreneurs buy into them anyway and put themselves and their businesses at risk. They lean like wheat. By that I mean that in a field of wheat, all the stalks follow the direction of the wind. They have no choice in the matter, no individuality. Compare this to an oak, who grows according to it's own path. A stalk of wheat lasts a season; an oak tree grows stronger with the passing decades.

But how can we distinguish what the next best thing for your business really is from simple, costly fads? The answer lies not so much in the technology or strategy itself, but in your business. Will the shiny object help your business, or distract from it? In the case of my friend, QR codes probably wouldn't have helped her much. The vast majority of her business came from referrals based on personal relationships and recommendations. Spending thousands of dollars on QR code marketing wouldn't have nearly the same impact as leveraging her existing relationships. In the case of another business, however, it may have made sense.

So how can you avoid shiny object syndrome? The answer is pretty straight forward, but will require some discipline.

Pick a target and stick to it.

If you're an entrepreneur, you have a vision for your company, and hopefully you have clearly stated goals that will move your toward that vision. Any decision you make with respect to a new technology or strategy should move you toward your target. If it doesn't, or if it causes an inordinate amount of distraction, you're putting your most precious commodity -- time -- in jeopardy.

"Avoid distraction by making sure all of your decisions support your greater goal." @AlexCharfen

In our office we have a saying. "Guard your life as if your business depends on it, because it does." I often add in that your life depends on it too, and it does. If you're not guarding your focus, I can guarantee you that nobody else will. If you lose focus, you're not maximizing your time. Time is something you can't buy any more of. Impulse purchases lead to your focus, energy and time being diverted from. Before you make a decision to purchase that new technology or shiny toy, ask yourself a few questions.

• Will this get me closer to my goal?
• Is this the highest and best use of my time in reaching my target?
• Will this take time, effort, energy or focus away from what is critical in my business?
• Do I know exactly how and why I need this, and will I use it?

If you so much as hesitate on any of these questions, you should really outline, as clearly as possible, how any new initiative will benefit your business. If you can't, it's probably not for you.

Ironically, most entrepreneurs see themselves as heretics, independents and outliers, yet when it comes to the latest marketing fad or the hottest tool or product at any convention, we get in line. It may be difficult at the time not to follow the crowd, but in the months and years to come, your growing, thriving business will thank you.

Alex Charfen is the CEO of the Charfen Institute.