The impact of the shiny toy syndrome

The shiny toy syndrome is characterised by wanting to own the latest toy and getting an intense but temporary sensation of happiness from the ownership, before moving onto something else. This desire to own and use the latest and supposedly greatest is often irrespective of the practical need for it. The shiny toy syndrome doesn’t only apply to physical things: many entrepreneurs suffer from this constant need to build something new, and developers often try new languages just because they’re more recent and therefore more exciting.

Many companies invest in new training or the latest software without considering first whether they are fit for purpose or would provide a decent return on investment. New technologies are being adopted everyday just because they are perceived as innovative. Freelancers and product managers also have to battle random requests from clients and other stakeholders who want to include features in a product design because they heard a buzzword somewhere.

shiny toy syndrome

Signs that you suffer from shiny toy syndrome

While shiny toy syndrome is obviously not a medical condition, it can hurt your business and your relationships with stakeholders at work. Here are some of the signs that you may be suffering from shiny toy syndrome.

  • You have switched a particular piece of software or service provider in your business several times in the past year
  • You pick a new language every time you start to code a new project
  • You spend more time adding new features to your product than improving the existing ones or growing the customer base
  • You have launched and abandoned many side projects in the past year, without giving them the time to grow
  • You want to build products with emerging technologies (blockchain, crypto, AI, AR, VR) just because they’re new and innovative
  • You have bought and started many online courses but never managed to finish one

None of these alone constitute a strong indication that you suffer from shiny toy syndrome, but several of these signs combined mean that you should probably be careful about how the constant switching and newness-driven choices may be hurting your long-term performance. The shiny toy syndrome can cause founders and tech workers more stress and more confusion, resulting in subpar results.

shiny toy syndrome

How to deal with the shiny toy syndrome

It’s natural to be attracted to new things. It’s actually hardwired into the brain to appreciate and seek out novelty: research shows that being exposed to novel experiences activates the release of dopamine in the central nervous system. But when it becomes a consistent habit in the way you work or run a business, it can be extremely damaging. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to develop self-awareness and combat the shiny toy syndrome.

  1. Give yourself time. When launching a new project, define what success looks like and decide on a realistic set date you have until reaching that goal. For example, reaching a certain revenue threshold or a certain number of users before a certain date. Whatever happens, stick to it and work hard to achieve your goal. You can decide once you reach that date if you want to keep working on the project or start something new.
  2. Ask yourself why. Before implementing a new feature or technology into your product, take a moment to ask yourself why. Is it because it will be beneficial to the users, or because you find it exciting? Does it actually make sense from a business perspective?
  3. Estimate the impact. Each decision we make comes with consequences. What would be the return on investment of switching software or coding language? What other priorities will have to wait while you focus on implementing this new feature or re-designing your app? Use second-level thinking to imagine all the effects your decisions will have on the business before committing to it.

The idea is not to limit your creativity. If you do want to keep on launching new projects and try new technologies, you can always have one long-term project and several smaller side projects which you are free to abandon whenever they don’t feel fun anymore. But it’s important to question the reasoning behind your decisions and to give time to your projects to grow.


Anne-Laure Le Cunff

I’m an ex-Googler, entrepreneur, and part-time neuroscience student at King’s College. If you found this article useful, subscribe to my weekly newsletter about productivity, creativity, learning, and designing engaging products.

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