Why You Should Avoid Bright, Shiny Ideas

Why You Should Avoid Bright, Shiny Ideas

I recently found myself thrown into a group situation where several people were quite excited about a new project. Discussion soared, emails flew back and forth, and the brainstorming was supercharged with electricity. They’ll do this! And that! And oooh, THAT!

It was a Bright, Shiny Idea.

As I watched conversation unfold at lightning speed, I must’ve looked like a stunned idiot. My jaw dropped several times, my eyes went wide and every now and then I’d utter a soft, “Wow. This is incredible.”

It was more than incredible. It was crazy. And not in a good way.

Every now and then I’d risk speaking up. I felt a little awkward breaking up the vivacious discussions, but I could see issues and holes in the rapidly-unfolding project that needed to be addressed.

So I extended my thoughts and offered counsel.

The conversation paused. Silence fell. And had we been sitting around a boardroom table, I’m sure several sets of eyes would’ve turned to fix me with a flat stare.

Then the group launched back into ecstatic chatter as if I hadn’t said anything at all.

You see, these people were on fire. They didn’t want to hear criticism. They didn’t want anyone to point out their idea might not be so bright and shiny after all. They didn’t want to think about potential issues or future consequences or possible roadblocks or speed bumps or even that the idea might fail.

They were stoked! This was a fantastic idea!! It was SURE to succeed!!!!

And they sure didn’t want me to tell them otherwise.

This problem happens often, actually. People get jazzed about some impulsive thought and suddenly they’re so motivated that they’re plowing ahead like wild horses with blinkers on. They’re ready to go, by god!

I’ve plowed ahead like that myself several times. You probably have too. When we’re excited about an idea and stoked to get it going, we give it our best. Our everything. Our 150%.

But that doesn’t mean we should.

Each time you get an idea for a project, you need to stop, take stock and think it over. Have you considered every aspect of it? Have you drilled down to the details? Have you planned it all out and examined its potential?

Is it worth your time? Your effort? Your investment? Will it achieve any sort of goal? Does it have a solid shot at success?

And why do you want to pursue this idea? What will you get out of it? What will it bring you? And how much impact will it create with others?

Getting critical about your ideas means pursuing the best and letting lesser ones go. It means you invest your time, your energy and your money in the right places so that you reach better success and more goals.

You have less failures. Make less mistakes. And you achieve more – far more.

And that’s just for regular ‘ol everyday ideas. Those Bright, Shiny Ideas? Huh, watch out for those! Those are the ones you really need to put under the microscope. It’s tough to ignore the blazing sparkles and flash and fireworks, and that glitter makes it hard to see the cold, hard truth of the situation.

You often don’t see the cheap brass underneath until it’s too late.

Bright, Shiny Ideas involving other people are even worse. Everyone’s excited. You all feed off each other. No one’s thinking clearly. The social pressure of peers and that nasty groupthink phenomenon in an already-supercharged brainstorming session means you have the makings of a perfect train wreck.

Want to avoid the crash?

Get critical. Analytical. Cold. Realistic. Logical. Be tough with your idea. Play devil’s advocate. Ask questions. Get a friend involved, one that’s willing to take shots at your project. Mercilessly grill every inch of your idea until you’ve swept away the sparkles and can see the reality clearly.

Then decide whether it’s worth it. You might end up realizing that the tantalizing glitz of that Bright, Shiny Idea hid a gaping hole… one that you don’t feel like falling through.

And if that’s the case, you’ll be thankful you had the foresight to take a closer look before diving in.

Oh, and you’ll avoid that train wreck. Congratulations.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. This actually reminds me of a boss of mine that once a day would have a new Bright and Shiny idea to put into the software we were developing. The problem was that he would come up with these ideas daily and in the software development world, that can cause out of control scope creep. While, I didn’t poke holes in his idea, I did find that by sitting on the ideas for a a few days and waiting to see if he mentioned again over the those coming days help reduced the scope creep. So, I guess my advise to people with Bright and Shiny Ideas is to wait a while and make sure it looks the same after the fever has broken. I think then one can actually look at in a realistic manner.

    On a side note, I have been that person in room of people where everyone was exciting about something and then I had to point out that most people didn’t need what they were suggesting. Needless to say, I found myself a the receiving end of a layoff a few months later. Years later, it seems they finally came to the same conclusion that I did and they have a much different business model now.

  2. Oh so true James. If only I’d done this more I’d have saved myself a heap of time, stress and money!

    Enthusiasm is fantastic, of course it is, but sometimes the stories we tell ourselves about our ideas is what we’re enthusiastic about, rather than the idea itself. That’s why I’m moving slowly with what I’m working on right now, so that I can spot the gaps and holes and so that I give myself time to figure it out from a few different angles.

    Always question.

    PS: I read “You often don’t see the cheap brass underneath” as “You often don’t see the cheap bras underneath”…

  3. Having been burned by a bright, shiny idea once, I’ve learned to err on the side of caution. Every time I have an idea that’s going to make me money, help thousands of people or change the world, I sleep on it and try to work out the details.

    On the other side of the spectrum: If you spend too much time figuring out the details, you can get stuck in this phase forever. Sometimes you just have to work out the feasibility and then jump right in even if there are details that still need to be worked out.

  4. I’m going through this now with the Mac Book Air…I want to buy one so bad even though I already have a netbook that suits my needs and does everything I need to do on it (write and get online).

    But it’s so bright and so shiny…I just want one. Now!

    I also try to tell myself that it’ll make me want to write more (ridiculous) and that I’ll treat writing more seriously if I spend the money (don’t fall for it!).

    And just when I think I’ve talked myself out of it I take a look at the videos on Apple’s site and I fall in love all over again…

  5. Hey James,

    I can see exactly what you are talking about. I had one family member who recently is seriously thinking of starting a brick and mortar “Cakes shop” business, and quit her day job she’s been in since many years, a job full of stress and a real energy sucker as a custommer service person in a leading national IT company.

    Yes she is passionate about cakes, pastry and everything in bitween.
    Yes she studied for it and has a diploma and the skills required to run the business flawlessly.

    And while she was talking to me about it, all excited that she was, (she had already chosen “ONE” kind of cake to be the star of the shop) I just asked her if she did the necessary market search and rather simple analysis of the state of consumer habits in our small town…

    Me: “Well I think it’s really an excellent idea! But I have to warn you though! Even if I don’t have your skills, passion and competence, I have already considered the creation of this kind of shop, and have talked to people who worked in some cake shops in the capital, and I will tell you at least that this business is absolutely not what you are thinking it is! And you MUST meet these people and interview them for your needs before you decide to dive into this biz…”

    Her answer: “No I will not need their advices, what I see is that I can produce much better cakes compared to what others are doing here, I understand what people like and what they are ready to buy, this Cakes shop is going to be a great succes I tell you!”

    I told her that I had no doubt at all that she was an excellent cakes cook, her cakes are simply delicious and aesthetic too, but I told her too that she didn’t reallize that that shop is going to need to “survive” at first for a long period of time, maybe 2 years at least, and with basic everyday recipes first, not original ones!, before it can have the luxury of being really different with originality and uniqueness.

    I talked to her about planning, and I started to see her avoid the conversation as I started to state some facts I learned from persons who were working in this business. Then she simply ignored what I was talking about and continued to talk to her project to other family members ^^”

    For now she is still at her day job, and she is not thinking 100% about her “future project”, but I will try to help her when she wants to start, I am sure she will not ignore counsels when she finds herself in critical situations.

    My turn now: how is my project plan doing? It is a complete mess LOL!
    I have a brainstorming simple text file surrounded by a small bunch of text files, and I am currently reorganizing them and refining their content so that they can work together, for me : )

    James, your article comes at a perfect moment, thanks God I am not completely lost in my project but I am asking myslef the same kinds of questions, like how to find the right partner for some tasks I don’t have the skills for, and without a budget neither ^^

  6. Sometime we do jump the gun and get too excited before really thinking about the situation..but I’m a person who never gets too excited about anything..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  7. This is so true. However, I am an analytical person and I have to often remind myself of the other side of the coin – what Anthony Robins calls “paralysis of analysis.” Surely, you shouldn’t get too excited about ideas. At the same time, you can’t wait to get all details before stepping out and trying your idea. Which is why if you are working in a team, it is important to have a balance of “dreamers” and ‘critics’ in the team. Great article.

    • Hey Vaiebhav,

      Dreamers VS Critics; I like this tableau very much.

      Thinking about it analitically, one should plan his/her project with the end result as a starting point, then retro-act every possible cause and consequence element from the image of final success or accomplishment, towards the very first steps, and then the very first step at stage 0.
      A good quick training maybe this: look for a successful case-study, once you have one that you think is compatible with you, try to imagine all the things that you should execute practically in order to ashieve at least a possible number of results, what is needed to be done to get that result?
      After you make sure you’ve put in the effort to “imagine” how you would do it, you can review the case study and learn about what was done to actually achieve the successful story.
      It’s all about writing a good scenario : )

      Another element is “testing” at a low scale. Testing small element prototypes of the product or service we would want to sell, is certainly less dangerous than to put in hundreds of hours of work, then realize that the prospects rejected your offer(s) because of something you didn’t think about, or any other reason.

  8. Hehe… I had a bright, shiny idea once. The bleeder took years to die, meanwhile draining many thousands of dollars in cash. Completely blinded, I was.

    People, listen to James. He (and she too) know exactly what he, I mean she, (or they, if you prefer) are talking about.

  9. I am one of those bright shiny ideas person. I know we can be annoying, but many times we are innovative. After many years of sparkly bursts, I’ve come to the conclusion that WE NEED YOU.
    As long as your feedback doesn’t feel like a bucket of stale beer drenching our enthusiasm, we will listen. Honest!

  10. “You have less failures. Make less mistakes. And you achieve more – far more.”

    Hmm, but failure is probably the best way to learn. The whole reason you were able to write this post is because somewhere you got burnt by a shiny idea (failed) and can now leverage that into something for the people. However, the point in your post is something you understand more than some dude who hasn’t failed.

    But that’s not to say your other statement wasn’t true > “Getting critical about your ideas means pursuing the best and letting lesser ones go”

    I think as content writers we tend to write things to help PREVENT people from pit-falling. But it was often those pitfalls that got us to where we are. The price we paid… in the long run was (is?) most probably worth it.

    • Hi FitJerk,

      You are fortunate to be someone who learn from his failures, I think I am too, but it’s not the case for everybody else when it comes to project/business development!

      Quick simulation:
      Sam has a super bright shiny idea,
      He/She is super excited and talks about it everywhere and almost to everyone,
      She/He started working on it right away without thinking too much,
      ……………….> fast track to some days/some months later:
      Sam gives up, and don’t think about it anymore.

      Did Sam fail at the project? I don’t think it’s a failure, because the project is still at development level.
      It just that it was not finished because of X reasons.

      I can see two reasons:
      1- No effective planning
      2- Lack of patience

      Effective planning and organisation is your engine, patience is your fuel.

      • Yup and guess what, “Sam” probably learned the importance of effective planning and patience as a result of that. He wouldn’t have known about it otherwise. Or he would have… but when you have a much deeper understanding when you FAIL.

        Failure is how we humans have always learnt… failure is experience at a deep level. Think caveman… goes into the forest, spots a tiger, but has never encountered one before. Barely escapes with his life and learns a valuable lesson that can be passed onto the tribe etc.

        The best lessons are learn’t from failure.

        Now, I don’t want people to read this and go about failing stupidly and for no apparent reason. It’s more like… taking a chance. The greatest risk, is not taking one.

        • Yes, sure: failure is a very important component in the learning process.

          And how about learning from other’s failures? If you were that caveman, would you rather go and face adventurous danger (on purpose or not + with or without an objective to atteign) or would you rather be on the observation side hidden somewhere, and planning your next approach for a determined goal?

          Want to learn how to beat a Lion with a toilet paper? (and a huge use of strategy), take a look at this crazy video that will get your heart beating at 280/h ^^”:

          Man Vs Lion

  11. Outstanding post, James. Sounds like most senior executive meetings I sat in on while still in the Navy. Along with many others, I applaud the creativity and enthusiasm of the “I’ve got a brilliant idea” folks. You’ve got to have folks with inspiration.

    But its been my experience that many are long on the idea part, and way short on the execution. They fall into the category of “I had the idea, now you make it work” with no consideration given to impending “train wreck” you describe in the article.

    If the brilliant, shiny idea is so awesome, you’ll want to make sure it stays awesome from conception through execution, and you will want to know what the potential pitfalls are that will turn the idea into a train wreck instead of flawless execution.

  12. I go through this a lot with writing– which is funny, because that isn’t even groupthink, it’s just me.
    I don’t think I’ve ever had a “Dim/Dull” idea for a story (note: The opposite for “Bright/Shiny,” I’m not saying my ideas were all GREAT, I’m just saying when the light pops on, they all SOUND great)– But when you start pulling the idea apart and try to get it on paper, well– more often than not, it’ll fall apart.

    It’s only somewhat recently that I’ve figured out the point of idea conception is really the “Movie Trailer Version”– it’s got a lot of flashy cuts, some deep voice over, and a really thumpin’ soundtrack.
    It’s images and the briefest sketch of an idea– Try to take a random movie trailer (even a bad movie) and then write out the rest of the film– you’ll quickly find out that the trailer didn’t provide you with anywhere near enough information to get through 120 pages.

    The latest trick I’ve been using, when a BRIGHT SHINY idea pops my way, is to write the trailer version– just log down those cool ideas, before jumping into the “real” version. The trailer version helps a lot, later in the process, when I start running out of steam and can’t remember why I thought this was a good idea to begin with.

    To that, I wouldn’t say to AVOID the Bright and Shiny, but just know what it is– it’s a pretty little seed, not a fully developed plant– it takes a ton of work to make it grow.

  13. Oh man, I have bright shiny ideas often, but putting the foundation and implementation behind them is another thing altogether! And that’s when they seem to fall apart. Good idea, but just not practical.

    On the other hand, some nice bright shiny ideas DO work. But as James said, it took getting critical and looking at the idea objectively.

    • Hello Melinda,

      Long ago, I stumbled upon a website that offered the opportunity to put anyone’s bright shiny idea to work, thanks to professional companies who were ready to invest in ideas that had a good success potential, plus manage the whole project from start to finish.

      Later, once an idea was implemented and transformed into real execution, then prove to be successful, the idea owner would win tremendous prises, from what I remember it was something related to lifetime royalties, or something like that.

      I think it was in 2005/2006, but I can’t remember the website’s name…

      How about finding an Idea Broker, or service… one thing’s for sure: if you think you have a tremendous bright shiny idea you should learn to protect it before you share it in public.

      • I think James was making the point that the majority of bright shiny new ideas is that they aren’t really great enough to be implemented. And they certainly wouldn’t stand up to the scrutiny of Angel Investors.

        Besides, if your idea is that great that they’ll manage the project then why would you hand it over and settle for royalties?

        IP protection is a sensible idea for a lot of business situations, not just the protection of ideas.

        • “I think James was making the point that the majority of bright shiny new ideas is that they aren’t really great enough to be implemented.”

          Oh! You are right, I re-read the article, thanks for pointing that out to me.

          “Besides, if your idea is that great that they’ll manage the project then why would you hand it over and settle for royalties?”

          That’s an excellent question, I tried to find just one reason, but you are right, there is none ^^
          But there is still a little tweak to the question: let’s say you have a bunch of cool looking ideas that are not getting you that excited or enthousiastic, for a reason or another, maybe someone else will not look at these ideas the same way. We often hear about very simple ideas that generate a huge success story.

          IP: Intellectual Property? I really wonder how it works in all these contexts.

  14. It’s true bright and shiny things are very tempting, but then again a moth finds a nightlight very bright and shiny and tempting. Then it dies.

    Any new idea that you come across, please consider it through first! Don’t jump the gun, and race towards the donut on the stick. Think. Who’s holding that stick? Where is the stick coming from? Would I feel better after eating that donut, really?

    A little reflection goes a long way 🙂

  15. Far more frustrating are the bright, shiny ideas from family members who in turn expect you to help them implement said shinies for free. I’ve lost count of the number of domains I’ve registered and built sites for for one particular family member. They never paid me and aren’t even using the sites now so all my work and money was for nothing.

    Last week they asked me to do them (another!!) site. Let’s just say that while I didn’t say no, I’ve put enough hurdles in place that before I lift a finger they’ll have to first put some effort in themselves.

  16. I’m confused. James suggests we should do the excapt opposite of what every creative coach I’ve ever heard, and every one agrees. Odd.

    What I’ve allways heard is that while we are brainstorming, no one should interfere with the flow with “buts” or “doubts”. Only positive thinking, only new ideas. Critizism comes later. It’s ten times as easy to kill an idea as to have one.

    You need a thousand bad ideas to find that good one. No need to stop too early. Glad they were able to continue.

    Interesting take on the issue, though! Thanks for the post, James.

  17. This post describes the opposite of following through. Seth Godin once said (and I’m paraphrasing) that great ideas are a dime a dozen, implementation is the real diamonds. I tend to agree with that philosophy.

    It certainly is true though, that not knowing when to can a bad idea has drained many a mans pockets.

  18. Great advice. I can see how shiny ideas can be a bad idea.

    But they’re not always bad. Some of the most brilliant marketing stratagem have begun as shiny ideas. So my question is, concerning this example you’ve given, how did it turn out?

    You never said. 🙂

  19. Hi James,
    Congratulations, your article about “Shiny Ideas” was brilliant.
    You are absolutely right to realize our ideas in order to succeed. We need sharp criticism from the others.


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