How Shiny Object Syndrome Kills Health Innovation And What To Do About It

Has this happened to you?  

You’re cruising along, having a fantastic day when you receive an email. It’s from your boss, client or a leader in the organization.  

At the top of the email she’s written: “Why aren’t we doing this?” In the body of the email you see a link to an article about a competitor, client or peer that is using the latest digital innovation. 

She’s sent the email to dozens of people throughout the organization. Then, your phone starts to ring and email inbox begins filling up with messages. Soon you’re planning an urgent meeting to figure out how to start using this new innovation — pronto.  

This scenario illustrates the consequences of shiny object syndrome. Chasing after the latest digital innovation with little planning, thinking about whether it will work for the organization, or buy-in from the people responsible for making it happen. People with this condition are just going through the motions and using new technologies and tools in order to look “innovative.” A few months later, the project’s been abandoned and you’re chasing after the next shiny new toy. 



Now, let’s admit a dirty little secret. Some digital agencies love shiny object syndrome because they’ll get paid for implementation regardless of whether the innovation is actually effective. But, if you’re interested in sustaining and supporting innovation over the long-term in health, ill-considered initiatives are deadly. Often people are disappointed by the results and conclude that investing in this particular innovation is a waste of time and resources.  

So, how can you prevent or short-circuit shiny object syndrome?Well, long-term thinking and planning helps. But, in a world where things in digital are moving ever-faster, that’s hard to do. The first, and most important step is to understand how to communicate effectively about innovation in health.  This will help you: 

  • Ask and answer the right questions about whether the innovation is right for the organization, situation, customer, etc. 
  • Provide the boss/leadership with a well-considered strategy for integrating the innovation into products/services/operations, etc. 

To help health executives communicate more clearly about innovation (and do a lot more), I recently developed a framework called the Digital Health Innovation Integration Curve. It is displayed below.   

The Curve provides a staging methodology that outlines the process of innovation from initial awareness to leveraging technologies at scale. For example, the note I described from leadership is a classic Stage I-related behavior. The organization thinks an innovation is important. Now you have to address whether moving quickly to Stage II  (engagement and capacity boosting) makes sense or if you need to pause and learn more about the innovation before moving forward.  

Now think about how this staging methodology can help limit the damage caused by shiny object syndrome. An email like the one I described above arrives.  Because you’ve socialized your organization to the Digital Health Innovation Integration Curve, you can: 

  • Quickly recognize that you’ve entered Stage I of the innovation integration process 
  • Communicate to your boss/leadership/client that you’ll work with the team to determine whether it’s worth moving to Stage II or you need more education and insight about the innovation and how it can help the organization before proceeding
  • Begin asking and answering tough questions about whether engaging with the innovation makes sense 
  • Get back to your boss with a preliminary decision and road map (if applicable) as to whether/how to engage in Stage II activities 

Notice how you’re being responsive while at the same time taking the time needed to make sound decisions that will increase the odds of a positive rather than negative outcome in the short-and medium-term. 

Feel free to print out the Digital Health Innovation Integration Curve and keep it close at hand. It may come in handy one day soon.  

By the way, if you’re interested in receiving additional information about the Curve, contact me via my profile on Media Post. I’ll be happy to send on a free toolkit you can use to guide innovation-related self-assessment activities within your organization.

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