Shiny Object Syndrome is an affliction that causes you to be attracted to “shiny objects.” Shiny objects can be whatever is new and trendy in your field. But oftentimes, the shiny objects are simply new ideas you have – other projects you’d rather be working on. In this form, Shiny Object Syndrome will ruin any chance you have of finishing your current project – unless you do something about it.
Two sources of Shiny Object Syndrome How do you overcome Shiny Object Syndrome? What you need to do is simple: Commit to your current project, ignore the new projects, suck it up, and follow-through. The reality isn’t so simple. Shiny Object Syndrome causes mental distortions that will have you 100% convinced you’re doing the right thing: This old project is a dud. This new project is sure to be a success. To cure Shiny Object Syndrome, we need to know its true sources. That way, we can nip them in the bud, keep Shiny Object Syndrome at bay, and finish projects. There are two main causes of Shiny Object Syndrome:
Naïveté of the novel Frustration with the existing We don’t know much about the new project, so we view it with rose-colored glasses. We know a little too much about our current project, so it looks terrible in comparison. This creates a “grass is greener” effect.
Now how do we get in this position in the first place?
1. Naïveté of the novel As humans, we’re naturally attracted to the novel. That’s how we’ve become such an innovative species. We were not satisfied with the old way of doing things – eating our meat raw and sleeping in the elements – so we’re curious about our neighbor who’s cooking with fire and has built a straw hut.
That explains why we’re attracted to the “shiny objects” in the first place, but there’s more happening in our minds that makes us not only attracted to the shiny object, but that makes us abandon what we have to pursue the unknown.
The Dunning-Kruger effect A powerful force that makes us hop from one shiny object to another is the Dunning-Kruger effect.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is named after it’s originators, psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who found that when we know a good deal about a field, we underestimate our knowledge, but when we little about a field, we overestimate our knowledge.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a favorite of internet “gotcha” culture. People love to point out the Dunning-Kruger effect at work in others, but it does a lot of good to recognize it in ourselves.
When we get a great idea for a new project in a field we know little about, we often think that project will be easier than it actually will be. It seems like a good idea to drop what we’re doing, and move on.
2. Frustration with the existing This naïveté of the novel colludes with frustration with the existing. In fact, it adds fuel to that frustration. If we start a new project, thinking it’s going to be easy, we’re even more disillusioned when we realize it’s actually hard.
We’ve run up against all the challenges we didn’t think about. We’ve seen the hidden complexity in the current project. As former guest, Tynan has pointed out, when we’re in the middle of a project, we’ve experienced all of the downsides, but none of the upsides, such as revenue or respect from our peers. Meanwhile, we know very little about the new project. It seems fun and easy.
When we started the current project, we said to ourselves, This will be easy. We’ve realized it’s not so easy, but the Dunning-Kruger effect takes over again. We tell ourselves of the new project, Now THIS will be easy! Just knowing how the naïveté of the novel and frustration with the existing work together to cause Shiny Object Syndrome isn’t enough to cure it. When you’re in this situation, it seems rational. You can come up with good-sounding reasons why the current project isn’t worth the trouble and the new project has a better chance of succe