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The Shiny Things Trap

Hey, Sean here. This edition of The Seemingly Unrelated reviews the Shiny Things Trap.

The Seemingly Unrelated

February 18 · Issue #18 · View online
by Sean Newman Maroni

Hey, Sean here.
This edition of The Seemingly Unrelated reviews the Shiny Things Trap.

The Shiny Things Trap is a common failure scenario for founders. It occurs when we abandon an idea because we come up with another idea that seems even more exciting.
Founders high in the Big Five personality trait Openness, but not as high in Conscientiousness, are especially susceptible to this.
This newsletter covers three related ideas to the Shiny Things Trap, which informed a blog post on the topic.
The European theatre during World War II
In WW2, the Allied forces pushed Hitler’s Nazi Germany into fighting a Two Front War. By forcing Germany to battle the Western Allies on its west, and the Soviet Union on its east, Germany’s military prowess was diffused.
This was an important contributing factor that lead to Germany’s defeat.
Falling into the Shiny Things Trap is like making yourself fight a Two Front War. By diluting your attention, you’re putting yourself in a spot where military strategists desire to place their opponents.
Think about that for a minute.
Sure, sometimes you must fight Two Front Wars, and sometimes that pays off. After all, the US was indeed fighting in both Europe and the Pacific in WW2.
Still, spreading your efforts across a bunch of Shiny Things needlessly jacks up your risk of failure.
Rockefeller's rise to pipeline dominance
The enthralling Chernow biography of John D Rockefeller explains how the wealthiest industrialist ruthlessly outsmarted his competitors.
In what is known as the ‘Cleveland Massacre’ Rockefeller built networks of pipelines that allowed Standard Oil to monopolize oil distribution. This allowed him to fix commodity prices and improve his refinery’s margins.
One of my favorite answers from Quora about building value instead of just trading time for money highlights how 'Rockefeller-like’ irreverence, hard work, and single-minded focus can lead to immense wealth.
The goal of startups is to be compensated proportionally to the value you’ve generated, not the time you’ve invested. This form of compensation is not available to founders who fall victim to the Shiny Things Trap. By switching gears before your pipeline is complete, you’ll do 100% of the hard work but reap 0% of the payoff.
Don't parallelize your pipelines
In the full blog, you’ll learn more about why pipelines are great analogies for overcoming the Shiny Things Trap.
Sirens of The Odyssey
Looking at you JP Morgan...
In the Odyssey, Odysseus crafts a plan to hear the beautiful songs of the Sirens while not falling prey to them. Similarly, founders are ever-tempted by new ideas, innovations, and projects.
My view is that founders are too weak to overcome Shiny Things with mere willpower alone. We must create mental models and accountability systems (as Odysseus did), to retain our enthusiasm for new ideas while protecting our time and attention.
In the full blog, I review the advice Warren Buffet provided his personal pilot about Shiny Things, and describe how I fight the Shiny Things Trap in my own life.

Check out the full blog here:
The Shiny Things Trap – The Seemingly Unrelated
About 'The Seemingly Unrelated' Newsletter
The Seemingly Unrelated is a series by Sean Newman Maroni (that’s me) intended to uncover the hidden principles that define complex systems.
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