Business Productivity

I give you permission to chase bright, shiny objects

- October 5, 2016 4 MIN READ

Chasing shiny objects is apparently a ‘syndrome’ amongst business owners where people spend time going after opportunities and trying new things. Sounds like a pretty fun syndrome to me! Not to mention some of the world’s most successful companies started out on a path far different to their end destination.

I stuck at my first business for seven years, too scared of shutting it down and ‘failing’. When I finally moved on, I tried a LOT of new things and was criticised heavily for it. This is what one of my friends and fellow business owners said about me at the time:

“You’re flaky, create ‘abandon-ware’ and haphazardly ‘fire’ paying customers. In the past few months we’ve seen you start with one product, add two more and watched them disappear just as fast as they appeared. Now you’re working on a completely separate product. Who is going to invest their time in you and your products?”

As it turns out, thousands. This was a few weeks before I created my WordPress support business. That business took off and within two years we had over 1,000 customers, 40 contractors around the world working for us and over $1m USD per year in annual run rate.

All of a sudden I was a genius business person. That business success led me to write my first book, which topped the business rankings on Amazon and sold over 30,000 copies. I then started telling my story by speaking at events around the world.

In a few years I’d gone from a diagnosis of ‘shiny object syndrome’ to a seven-figure entrepreneur, bestselling author of four books and international speaker.

All because I kept chasing shiny objects until I found one that exploded.

And I’m not the only one.

Some of today’s most successful companies started on trajectories far different to their current business models. They chased their own shiny objects.

  • Twitter began as a podcast network called Odeo. Once iTunes began cornering the podcast market, they decided to chase new windows of opportunity and transformed themselves into the microblogging platform we know today.
  • Instagram began life as a check-in app similar to Foursquare before morphing into a mega photo sharing app that was sold to Facebook for $1 billion.
  • Youtube started out in 2005 as a video dating site called Tune In Hook Up, but weren’t afraid to vastly broaden their market to become the video sharing platform giant of today.
  • The founders of photo sharing site Flickr started out with the idea of creating an online role-playing game before pivoting to pursue their shiny object of a photo sharing site.

The list goes on. As long as business has been a thing, there are plenty of successful examples of people chasing something more interesting than what they are currently working on.

When you chase a lot of different opportunities, you inevitably create more, and you inevitably fail more.

Which is good.

I like to aim for a failure rate of 97%. When software entrepreneurs start businesses, they aim to give away their product for free and hope 3% of their audience will sign up to the paid version. Really they want all of their free customers to sign up to the paid plan, but they settle for a 97% failure rate. This rule has served me well.

I run a free Facebook group with 7,000 members. When I launched a paid group, I aimed to fail at 97% and have 3% sign up for the paid group.

I had 200 people sign up, which was around 3%. This alone guaranteed more income each year than I’d earned for any of my first seven years as a business owner.

Failing never felt so good.

If you aren’t regularly failing, you aren’t seeking a new destination. You are following a predictable path that doesn’t lead to anything new and you are learning nothing. In other words, you are failing. You are failing to grow and failing to improve and realise your full potential. You are avoiding the good kind of failure and it’s resulting in the bad kind.

Steve Martin has a great quote:

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

I love this because it puts the responsibility squarely back in your court. It’s your job to be good; the rest will look after itself. If you really are that good, people will eventually notice.

The problem is, it’s up to others to decide if you are good enough. When you make things, aiming for that 97% failure rate, it is virtually guaranteed that whatever you make won’t be good enough for most people.

With this in mind, I made up my own version of Martin’s quote:

Create so much they can’t ignore you.

This is another great by-product of chasing shiny objects; you will inevitably increase your creative output. Making stuff is entirely up to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hit. It only matters that you made it.

This knowledge has served me well, and it’s the only reason I’ve been able to do what I do. The world is filled with good stuff. Which means you might create good stuff 5,000 times before anyone notices. If you want to get noticed, you might need to create 5,001 things.

So go forth. Create, fail and chase shiny objects. And let me know when something you do explodes 🙂

This is an extract of Dan Norris’s book Create or Hate: Successful People Make Things. It is re-published here with permission.