How to not become the latest shiny object on the shelf 

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

I’ve been the latest shiny object myself. I’ve also crowned others as the new king, queen, savior, whatever.

Of course, the shiny object means the latest thing or person to which we are paying attention. It’s the one thing that will save us. They will help us disrupt. <Insert additional cliches here.>

New leadership hires often are shiny objects. They are here to save us.

New projects can be, too. This project will save the business after six years of not doing anything innovative.

New tools are probably the most common shiny object. Oh, this tool will help save my business.

The thing with shiny objects is that they lose their shine and likely need to be dusted off at some point. Or they are stored. Or donated to Goodwill. I have a whole room full of toys that the girls used to play with – when they were shiny objects. A new baby would be a shiny object, too. Just kidding. I’m fine with the status quo.

And that’s the balancing act right there. People go with their routines – aka, the status quo.

On the other hand, new things are exiting. We have hope in that new leader, tool or baby.

At some point they need to fit into the current status quo. That can mean one of three things:

  1. They are now irrelevant and no longer the shiny object. Things didn’t change. The new status quo is also the old status quo. Not usually a good option for change agents.
  2. They completely flipped things around. What they were trying to do actually worked quickly and they are the savior. This option is not that likely but can be a success for the change agent and leaders. Likely it was too quick and impacted too many people negatively.
  3. There was just enough change to make it a success for the change agent and for people to realize it. But it wasn’t as drastic as No. 2. We didn’t forget about the past to innovate for the future. Many are happy and hopeful.

No. 3 is the way because it doesn’t forget about the past or present while looking toward the future.

[Insert latest shiny object] is the new [Insert something older].

Why do we always have to judge – or at least disregard – the past when we come up with something new? Really, let the past be, well, the past. Ha. The new thing isn’t necessarily the new of something old. It’s its own thing. And that’s OK.

As far as I can tell:

Television didn’t kill radio.

The Internet didn’t kill TV.

Books are still around, too. Print is not dead, to say the least.

I remember giving a multi-channel authentic storytelling content marketing presentation once and didn’t even mention the term “social media.” An audience member had a question:

“How come we are only talking about social media here?”

“Oh, we aren’t. We are talking about all channels – including social media.”

We discussed that for a bit, but really, the whole discussion came back to this: To do something new, we have to replace something old. It’s true to a degree, but few things get completely replaced.

That concept sounds so simple and makes sense for us (project) manager-types. Oh yes, do something new, cut something old. Right, that assumes the old thing is no longer relevant. And while some older products and services indeed do go away, that’s not always the case. Let’s look at content marketing.

People now:

  • Blog
  • Write books
  • Participate on social media
  • Still go on TV when it’s relevant
  • Sometimes appear on radio shows
  • Have their pictures (or pictures of their products) on billboards


The abundance of terrible billboards

Why I wrote a book

Podcasts I’ve been on

All those channels play together today. Sometimes we might be OK going without one channel or another. Sometimes we may not have the opportunity to go on TV – earned or paid. But when there’s a chance, use all relevant channels. Try new channels and new technology and see what works. As audiences are using different channels themselves, so should we.

But we also need to let something go to innovate….

You hear the cliches:

We are innovating, taking it to the next level, etc., etc.

Many organizations and people want to be on the cutting edge – without being on the bleeding edge – of innovation. Those organizations say they want to go with the times and adjust to consumer behavior.

I love the new and innovative. I try not to chase too many shiny objectives – at least not for too long. I mention this here because when we truly want to be innovative, that also means we may potentially – most likely actually – have to give something up. We have to let go of something else. And to give something up, we really have to be sure that where we are going is worth giving up whatever we have.

But, I’ve heard this often over the years: We are doing this new thing but/and we are not letting go of the old thing. Because, you know, the old thing is still kind of working and we’ll just keep it around and experiment with the new thing.

I’ve heard this from organizations in a number of different industries, including nonprofits, media companies and others.

Then, after a week or two, the new thing isn’t working to the extent the old thing has been working for decades, and we declare that the new thing was just a shiny object that we are going to stop chasing.

The thing is, most new things won’t work the day after they were implemented and they certainly shouldn’t be compared to something that worked for a long time and that took a long time to get to that working stage.

Plus, whether something is working depends on your definition of working.

Often, for new things to work, we have to let go of something old. Sometimes that’s an actual legacy product, a workflow or sometimes it’s people with outdated skills.

Perhaps instead of focusing on old or new, we should focus on whatever tool gets us to accomplish our vision in the most meaningful way.

Let’s use the example of a media company: If the media company’s vision and purpose is to publish a daily newspaper, it’ll be hard – if not impossible – to ever think about other channels in a truly meaningful way.

But if the vision and mission is to inform our communities about the most relevant happenings to them, we’ll figure out a way to do that best. It might be a newspaper, or it might be something online or who knows what new channel might be invented before too long.

The same holds true for just about any other organization. We can give up an old technique if the new technique helps us reach our vision. For that, our vision has to be big enough. If the old technique is also the vision and purpose, it’s impossible.

For those change agents out there – aka shiny objects – the trick to make it work and to stay relevant is to innovate and change things just enough to impact change. To get something done without completely destroying past successes.