Shiny Object Syndrome

May 04, 2013 1 Comment by

jeff-bezosEarlier this year, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos was identified in a Harvard Business Review survey of his peers as the world’s Top CEO. 

That’s a pretty impressive accolade considering that many people – including some of these same peers – believed his business model was destined to failure when he launched Amazon (as Cadabra) not even a decade ago.

Yes, He Built That: Bezos incorporated his dream company in July 1994, and the website now known as the world’s top internet retail destination went online as in 1995.  Amazon now employs over 88,000 people and generated annual revenues of over $60 Billion in 2012.

The hallmarks of Bezos’ leadership style have been innovation, customer service and maintaining a long-term focus.

A Radical in a Suit: I believe he’s one of the world’s premier Change Agents and we can all take a cue from him.

Today’s discussion introduces one of my favorite Jeff Bezos quotes and offers a few insights Change Agents can draw from it.

His quote refers to the addictive power of shiny objects:


Change Agent Take-Away:  There’s a common negative phrase that often pops up during failed change initiatives.  It’s called “Flavor of the Month”. This disparaging term is meant to describe a shiny new idea that “the boss has fallen in love with”. The problem is that the boss falls in love with some new idea every ice-cream-cone copymonth – and these ideas rarely get fully implemented.

With “flavor of the month” changes, there could be a lot of loud and impressive rhetoric shared at the launch event, but not a lot of clear rationale. The flash of attention and hand-waving can mask holes in the business case.

Even though the shiny new idea is made to sound super-important and everything else is shoved aside to make room for the new concept, everyone knows the romance won’t last.

It Won’t Last: The track record of follow-through is all the average employee needs to see in order to decide to postpone jumping on the bandwagon. Of course the results of this type of change are usually poor. Worse yet, people start to ignore future changes in hopes that they will just blow over like a spring rain shower.

The boss will lose focus. Other priorities will crowd the change out. A different hot idea will catch the leader’s eye next month – so the shiny change can safely be ignored. 


shiny_objectAvoid the Shiny Trap: To avoid getting hammered by the hazards of hollow hoopla, Change Agents should:

1.  Get Clarity: Early in the definition phase of your change, press hard to define the lasting value behind the change and how adoption of the change will matter to the average stakeholder. 
2.  Expect to Measure: Define how that benefit of this change will be measured in tangible terms that stakeholders will recognize.thumbs up
3.  Expect to Finish: Ask hard questions to verify that the idea behind the change will still make sense by the time its fully implemented.
4.  Plan the Work: Lay out the work of the change in clear steps and be sure leadership will commit the time and resources needed to get them done. (“Plan the Work”)
5.  Work the Plan: Ensure that the organization follows through on the work behind the change.  (“Work the Plan”)

6.  Collect Data: Insist that you be allowed to gather real data on change adoption. (Here’s an earlier post on this subject called “Data is King”.)

7.  Use that Data – Don’t let emotions or hunches drive decisions: Make sure that status reporting is based on data – and evaluations of progress are kept independent of the hoopla and the hype.
8.  Track: Diligently monitor progress against expectations – especially track execution of the work and demonstrated adoption of the change.
9.  Speak Up: Raise the red flag if progress of the work or the adoption stalls out.
10. Run Through the Tape: Just like a long-distance runner, Change Agents should insist that the team completes the work of the change – even if new shiny ideas start to pop up late in the execution cycle.
Sprinkles on Top: It’s tempting to fall for the allure of a shiny object. Effective Change Agents know that flavor of the month changes can exhaust an organization while providing little value. These ten steps can help you and your team avoid this sweet, addictive trap.
Questions for Chatter:
  1. Have you been a victim of “flavor of the month” change?
  2. What has worked for you as a Change Agent to ensure that your change doesn’t stall out before the implementation is complete?
  3. Have you ever found it intimidating to question the “boss” about the logic behind a change? 
tbr Blue Line.

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

One Response to “Shiny Object Syndrome”

  1. Michael Shelton says:

    Right on target Steve. I really like your point about making a solid plan with actionable next steps, and then working the plan til the finish line. Nice content.

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