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Is there really a Shiny Object Syndrome?

Is there really a Shiny Object Syndrome?


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The term "Shiny Object Syndrome" is used to describe the tendency to start new ideas without thinking them through, especially in business.

  • Does this phrase represent an actual clinical diagnosis?
  • Are there people who are more likely than others to be distracted by "shiny objects"?
  • Can "shiny objects" cause further effects other than distraction?

Does this phrase represent an actual clinical diagnosis?

There is no such diagnosis in the DSM. Based on your definition (the tendency to start new ideas without thinking them through), it is probably correlated with psychological constructs such as impulsivity or deliberation. These can be measured using tests such as the Barratt Impulsivity Scale and Cognitive Reflection Test, respectively. Whether or not people who fall prey to "shiny object syndrome" in business are actually more impulsive or less deliberate is not clear.

Are there people who are more likely than others to be distracted by "shiny objects"?

Since "shiny object syndrome" hasn't been operationalized, it's impossible to say for sure. I think it's reasonable to believe there is individual variation here, either because some people are more cautious than others, or because they have learned from their mistakes.

Can "shiny objects" cause further effects other than distraction?

Sure, why not? By definition, it sounds like there would be a drop in efficiency or productivity, which can at least cause negative monetary outcomes.


Digital experimentation: How to avoid the shiny object syndrome

While the insurance industry is hearing a lot of messages these days about the importance of experimenting with new digital technologies — i.e. witness the increased use of terms such as “agility,” “nimble,” “pivoting,” and “failing fast” — a business strategy should guide the digital innovation, industry execs say.

Brian Falchuk, managing partner of Insurance Evolution Partners, raised the issue of the so-called “shiny object syndrome” Tuesday at the Reuters webinar, Insurance 2021: The Customer Behaviour Changes that will Stay. He was paraphrasing a question from an audience member, who was concerned that constantly trying to pivot to new technologies might lead to an inconsistent experience for the consumer.

“When architecting your solution so you can pivot easily, does that lead to [whiplash]?” Falchuk said, paraphrasing the question. “You keep changing things and ‘trying around.’ What’s the impact on the customers? Are there things you can do to be careful that we don’t end up with shiny object syndrome, where we’re saying, ‘Ooh, let’s do this instead,’ and maybe our customers become victims of that inconsistency?”

Economical chief information officer Tatjana Lalkovic used the expression “architecting your solutions” earlier in her presentation, when she asked: “Are you architecting your solutions and ways of working in such a way that you can pivot and move with agility, leveraging all of the good things like cloud, automation, and platform consolidation, simplified technology, and integration patterns?

“It’s going to be very important,” she continued. “A lot of emphasis is [placed] on emerging technologies and researching and finding use cases for that. It’s equally important to set yourself up so you can adopt them and adapt to changing customer expectations that will be driven by those emerging technologies and trends.”

Answering the question from the audience, Lalkovic agreed there needs to be a structure, “an architecture,” underpinning the digital experimentation.

“You still have to have a strategy, a road map, or a direction,” she replied. “The fact that you have this strategy…allows you to make trade-offs and really meaningful assessments about whether you pivot or not. Architecture for flexibility is…preventing you from creating a mess that gets you into trouble later.”

In other words, the strategy guides the digital discovery process by laying out the principles that should not be compromised during the process of experimentation. Otherwise, if principles are compromised along the way, a company could be left with a complex, digital white elephant that costs a lot of money and meets neither the company objectives, nor consumer expectations.

“You still have to have a direction…so you can stare down, ‘What are the trade-offs?’” said Lalkovic. “Not understanding the implications of the changes that you are making would get you into trouble.”

Nathan LaFayette, chief insurance officer for CAA, framed the issue by saying strategy defines what the new digital technology is intended to do. It is then left to operations managers and their staff to come up with how the digital strategy is to be done. At this point, the experimentation begins.

“Strategically, I think it’s important for leadership to say, ‘What is going to happen?’” LaFayette said. “What are we going to do? Communicate it, repeat it. Make sure that the entire organization is clear on what is intended.

“I think the empowerment of people making the decisions, the people operating the business on a day-to-day basis, those who are on the front lines, that’s the ‘How?’ That’s where I think the flexibility comes in and possibly the experimentation.

“As long as you are aligned on the what…there can be flexibility [with the how],” LaFayette said. “It’s not that you’re chasing shiny things on the how. What you are doing is figuring out the optimal way to execute the strategic goal. I think great organizations execute on strategies. The secret isn’t in the strategies, the secret is in the execution. That’s how good organizations separate themselves from average organizations, is in the how.”


Is there really a monster underneath the bed? June 12, 2021 6:50 PM Subscribe

when I was about that age, I believed there were vampires living in the living room fireplace, and there was no way I was going in there by myself with the lights off. I may have had a dream of it or just imagined it but I was sure they were there and they were terrifying.

It wasn't exactly the same kind of "knowing" that I do now as an adult but it wasn't all that different, really. It was like. it was plausible, that scary terrible things were there in the dark fireplace, and there was no evidence to disprove it, because they were only going to be there when it was dark and I was alone, so seeing the fireplace empty in the light was no assurance.

(That said I of course don't know your kid, so can't speak to whether he could just be stalling. But in any event I'd let him keep whatever lights on that he wants to, at least until he's fallen asleep.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 PM on June 12 [7 favorites]

I am not a parent and I am not a child psychologist. But I do remember VERY clearly what those nighttime fear-of-the-dark moments were like, well into when I was older grade-school age. It's not a conscious thing - it was never a conscious "If I say I am afraid of this I might get to stay up later" tactic. And at some level I did understand that the Big Scary Thing lurking in the dark for me couldn't possibly be there (especially since for me, and I'm not kidding about this, the Big Scary Thing I was convinced was waiting for me in the dark was a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast).

I think that kids' imaginations are just so vivid that the "what-if" takes over sometimes, even when their rational brains "know" that the thing they're afraid of isn't really there. And when the kid is too young to have such a developed rational brain in the first place, the imagination is even more vivid. So my money is on "mental gymnastics" - he saw a picture of a "baboon man" or something in passing once, it creeped him out a little, and that image has lingered in his brain and he remembers it when it's already dark at night and he can't quite see what really is there around him in his room, so his brain offers up the what-if that "what if that creepy baboon thing you saw is lurking there" and the imagination takes over and he starts to believe it might be there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 PM on June 12 [12 favorites]

Little kids are not, in general, engaged in Machiavellian schemes to manipulate parental behaviour. They haven't had time to develop theories of mind or society anywhere near accurate enough to make that work.

What they are doing, every single one of them, the whole time they're awake, is tripping.

This is why it's so vitally important to be kind to them. Bad trips cause bad flashbacks.
posted by flabdablet at 10:09 PM on June 12 [54 favorites]

The are types of sleep patterns that can cause the brain to do weird things just at the edge of consciousness. I’ve seen all sorts of creatures in rooms with me as I am falling asleep. It has taken a lot of work and effort and terrifying dreams to get to a point where I can avoid triggers that contribute to it happening and have slowly trained myself not to panic when I wake up and see a mini flying saucer flying across my room, or a giant spider lurking in the corner, or a fully realistic demon in the doorway.

I would recommend a medical evaluation to see if there’s anything neurological going on, if there is, it will be so much healthier in the long run to understand it sooner rather than later.
posted by HMSSM at 10:29 PM on June 12

When I was a small kid, I had a phase where I was recurrently afraid that I'd wake up one morning, go into my parents' room, and find out that they'd been replaced either by a swarm of evil bees or by goats with glowing red demonic eyes (my parents also misheard "goats" as "ghosts" the first time I tried to communicate this fear, and were then surprised when my actual fear turned out to be much weirder than ghosts, for extra hilarity).

Does he actually understand on some level that it isn’t real?

I can still remember the weird mental state of that age, where I knew rationally on some level that those things happening were so improbable as to be functionally impossible (every single time I'd ever gone into their room, they'd been sleeping people, not evil goats or bees), but I was still very scared of both the image and the concept. I don't recall consuming any media around that age that would have planted those images for me - my best guess is that my brain invented them, found its own invention scary, invented a scenario in which I might be exposed to those images and found that invention scary too, while still knowing on some rational level (insofar as 4yos can be considered rational) that those images weren't real and the actual risk of my parents being turned into evil goats or bees was almost zero. So, yes, I did actually understand on some level that it wasn't real, but that didn't stop the images my brain was capable of generating from being vivid and frightening in a way that was pretty detached from any rational fear of the vivid, frightening thing happening in reality.
posted by terretu at 2:04 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]

Yes, there IS a monster under the bed.

Your child is now at an age where there is substantial independence. Two years ago if he woke up in the middle of the night he was almost certain to either let you know by calling or crying, or by going to you. And you in turn were much more likely to check up on him and not to leave him unsupervised for more than a few moments.

But now you are more likely to assume he will sleep through the night and to not be aware of what he might be doing while you are sleeping. Your two year old was unlikely to be able to move a chair to the front door and stand on it to unlock it. Your four year old is old enough to conceptualize ideas like, "I'm thirsty, I want pink soda, I'm going to the store to get pink soda," of "I want to play dolls with Michael from day care, so I am going to Michael's house" and act on it. Your four year old is much likelier to have longer legs and get farther than you two year old would. And while you want to foster independence and mastery at this age, you want it oh, so much, you do not want to wake up to discover that your four year old has gotten all the way to the local marsh, or the freeway, or the neighbour two blocks down that keeps a badly underfed doggie on a rope in the backyard to discourage interruptions in there business of selling crystal meth.

But you can't explain to your four year old what all the hazards out there are, and expect them to remember and resolve firmly to avoid getting stuck in the crawl space behind the garbage chute in the basement of your building, or going into the apartment to accept a cookie from the nice lady you always wave to, two doors down, who has been silently building a spurious case of child neglect in her mind to report to child welfare, and not to play hide and seek in the parking garage with the unsupervised seven and eight year old that the nice lady more properly should be focusing her concerns on. There are way too many potential hazards for you to have even a remote chance of naming them, describing them and impressing them on your little guy as critically important. In fact if you DO manage to impress even a tenth of them on your little guy the nice lady two doors down will be justified in doubting your parenting skills because you will have a terrified, paralyzed traumatized four year old.

Happily a kindly nature has seen fit to create the boogy man. You don't even have to mention the boggy man to induce a nervous awareness that it is much safer to stay in bed, and if you wake up pull the covers over your head so he can't see you, and never, never go wandering into dark corridors in strange places and never, never go down to the woods today unless you are firmly holding the hand of a parent or at least keep looking behind to make sure they are staying close enough to protect you.

This feeling of dread that there is a monster out there is a human universal, which springs up spontaneously in kids of an age to start wandering, whether or not they are cautioned against the Mahaha who lies in wait in the snow, or the Qallupilluit who snatches children who go out on the sea ice, or Kappa who lurks in the river, or Boney the giant as tall as Rouen steeple who will come for children who are naughty and don't do as they are told, let alone the whole host of supernatural creatures that tell us that it is not a good idea to be in the vicinity of someone who had died unless the body has been carefully and kindly dealt with in a way that ensures we won't catch smallpox or be killed by the same coyotes, or fall down the same well or have our blood sucked, or be eaten or whatever the vengeful ghosts and undead in our area do. If you see a dead person, the instinct goes, and you are not the authority in charge of investigation and if you are not gathered together in a group ritual of mourning, get the hell out.

The form this very real terror takes will depend on the person whose heart starts thumping madly when they are alone. A glimpse of a commercial or a video game, a moment seeing an undisguised expression, an instant of vertigo at the top of the stairs, rage when a soft toy comes apart, the sliminess of a dogs tongue when it greeted us exuberantly. The coalize into the shape of your personal monster. The edges remain a bit blurry as you gather more information to give the bloated predator shape. The man that lives in the hallway may turn into a healthy fear of strangers who might be pedophiles, or an unhealthy fear of people who don't wear the same brand of clothes or listen to the same kind of music we do. It might turn into a fear of electricians that don't attempt to comply to code, or to anyone who asserts the right to shoot anyone who frightens them.

If you feel inchoate fear you will be paralyzed. You need to have an idea who and what the monsters are so that some movement is safe. The boogy man is under the bed, or in the closet, or in the marsh. If you mumble 'MathewMarkLukeanJohnWickedcreaturesallbegone!" the one under the bed can't grab your foot, if you turn on the light at three in morning the vampire in the closet will turn into ash, if you never go down to the marsh at twilight you will never see the willo-the-wisp and be lured to your doom, and if you never ever stick anything into an electric outlet the monster that lives inside the wall will not zap you, if you go straight to the doctor if you find a lump under the skin the crab that lives within will never grow tentacles.

Of course it's real. Believing in monsters and the rituals that protect us is the only reason so many of us ever survive.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:26 AM on June 13 [91 favorites]

^ is an absolutely gorgeous comment thank you!

What I remember about this stage as a kid was my inability to generalize. That is, I was absolutely terrified of tornadoes thanks to an extraordinarily cruel elementary-school teacher who showed us a tornado documentary. The innocuous movement of tree-branch shadows on the ceiling of my bedroom made me worry about tornadoes for many months afterward, because I couldn't make the logical leap "it's been harmless for the last n nights, so chances are it's fine."
posted by humbug at 5:40 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

I think it’s useful to remember that kids have started out in the world knowing nothing and every day before breakfast we grown-ups tell them things that are utterly fantastical, where they can’t comprehend the explanation, so we just expect them to believe it.

This shiny, smooth cylinder? Mummy’s hands are so clever and strong, and so different from yours, that she’s going to twist the top of it in just the right way, and it’ll open, in a way that would be impossible for you, with your tiny, uncoordinated hands. And then - look inside! This hard shiny object has delicious breakfast-tasting goo hidden inside it! I’m not going to explain the process of baby food manufacture to you, little one, so you’ll just have to believe me that this is the way the world is. And so on. Every single thing a tiny child sees is inexplicable to them and we just expect them to believe us when we tell them that’s the way it is.

So I think, even at 4, their sense of what’s real and explicable, and what’s not, is so much more flexible and permeable than ours. It has to be, in order to learn the massive amount they have to learn about the world. They have to be open to so many possibilities and just trust that they’re true even when they don’t understand them. They’ve not yet reached the point where they’ve had the chance to run through most human experiences and set up the boundaries that adults use to divide them into “explicable and therefore probably real” or “inexplicable and therefore probably not real”, or to have the background knowledge of processes and practices, that would enable them when they encounter something novel, to deduct which category it falls into and rely on their deduction.

Combine that with things like inchoate fear or half wake/dreamy states, that even adults find hard to parse out, and suddenly it seems kind of reasonable that if you think there might be a monster under your bed, it might be true.

Add in the fact that grown-ups, who know everything, are in the habit of sitting them down, and reading them stories about bears that talk and monsters that live in the woods, and it’s no wonder they believe in the monster under the bed!
posted by penguin pie at 7:32 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]

Explain to your child that as we get near sleep, our imaginations are active, and always reassure your child that they are safe, that you will protect them.

Seconding this - this can be a powerful message. Especially if it gets their active imaginations working towards a comforting image - another thing I remember from being a child is one night when I was awake in the middle of the night, suddenly irrationally afraid of vampires or something coming to attack the house - and suddenly I remembered that "wait, Mom and Dad would wake up and hear a vampire if it tried to come in, and would get up and stand in the way of the door to my room." And I went on to also remember that they'd probably also call the police on the way to come help. And maybe a fireman if they could help. And maybe the Army. And other neighbors would probably also see and come help.

And as I lay there thinking about that, the image popped into my head of my parents standing guard in front of my door, with the police standing in front of them, and firemen standing in front of THEM, and a whole platoon of people about ten-deep filling our kitchen by now, and gradually more and more neighbors joining this crowd standing around our house, all of them angrily staring down a vampire that was suddenly changing its mind about whether it was going to come up our driveway. And. it helped. It still took me a little while to fall asleep, but any time the dark started wigging me out I pictured all those people standing between me and the monsters outside and it settled me down.

Your little one has an active imagination, and triggering that to cough up soothing and comforting images can help here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:49 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]

I still very vividly remember one night when I was a teen babysitting for a preschooler who was not very good about bedtimes. He was being kind of a pain in the ass and kept waking up and yelling for me and one of the times I went up he said, “I can’t sleep because there’s a bad man in the room,” and he was visibly distressed, and I was all, “There’s no bad man, you don’t need to worry!” and I asked, “Where’s the bad man?” thinking he would say, “In the closet,” or whatever and I would go over and open the closet and show it to be free from Bad Men, but instead he looked and pointed at a spot behind me, in a part of the room I really hadn’t even looked at, and he said, “He’s right there,” and he clearly 100% was seeing a bad man just over my shoulder and it was probably the scariest thing that happened to me that year.

Anyway, presumably he was having some kind of night terror. I myself very occasionally wake up believing something that isn’t true, like that owls have been nesting in my bedroom for the past several weeks (took me about 5 minutes to realize that this was extremely implausible) or that my cousin is getting divorced (didn’t figure out that that was a dream until the next day when I was like, “Wait, who told me that? How would I even know?”). We all think weird things when we’re sleepy and little kids have much less context to help them understand what’s likely vs. what’s basically impossible.
posted by mskyle at 6:08 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I have a neurological quirk where I still occasionally experience these things, often at bedtime. (Using the singular a little loosely here.) Anyways, yes, for sure it's real to the child - I don't actually have a required bedtime nor any parents to manipulate and yet, still sometimes have nights like that.

With my kids we either had a go-away magic phrase (ours was. ahem. 'So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu, adieu, adieu, to yeu and yeu and yeu' or any of the other parts of that song) or monster spray (a bit of eau de toilette.) As parents we kind of walked a fine line. we dealt with the belief but in a kind of slightly detached way that also conveyed that it was a bit pretend for us - hard to describe but kind of 'oh, really? well that's nice dear, if that happened to me I would. " undercurrent. They seem to have turned out ok so far.

To add to the 'weird stories of bedtime beliefs,' my parents took me to the drive in believing I would fall asleep and instead, there was this very repetitive musical motif that would keep waking me up and so I would pop my head up from the back seat. and that is how a) I developed a belief until my 20s that Jaws was exclusively shot from the point of view of the shark and b) I developed a fear which I entirely knew was absolutely irrational that there was a shark under the bed that would graphically bite me.

I recently read the Outside Online Bite Club article during a bout of insomnia and almost got that fear back even though I've actually gotten over it enough to sit with a shark on my lap at a tourist thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Kids have wild imaginations, and they take things they don't understand and fit them into things they do understand. Doesn't even have to be scary. My mom asked my young sister to explain the radio once when she was 3 or 4. Hilarious explanation.

I used to live across the street from a windmill that screeched at night when it turned. My brother and I were scared of that thing until one day my dad took me out in the middle of the night and showed me the windmill making the noise. I wasn't scared of the dark anymore after that and am still not.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:39 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

One of my friends took her child to see some Star Wars iteration with a Sith Lord in it. Her child loved Star Wars, but as the theater darkened and the movie showed the Sith Lord, he completely panicked to the point that they had to leave.

I saw this happen, most probably to a different child, at a 1985 rerelease of Star Wars. A father had brought his five-ish-year-old son, and the kid was an authority on the Star Wars universe, based I guess entirely on the toys. He described to his dad all the characters and explained the story in great and correct detail, despite never having seen the movie. And just as effluvia described: the lights went down, the film started, the big ship caught the little ship, the stormtroopers burst in, and I could hear the kid get more and more upset as the tension ratcheted up. and when Darth Vader appeared through the smoke, he started screaming uncontrollably. Dad had to take him out, and he certainly didn't get to see the movie that day.

I wonder if it changed his relationship to some of the toys.
posted by Devoidoid at 12:14 PM on June 14

I have a neurological quirk where I still occasionally experience these things, often at bedtime.

Hell, I don't have any neurological quirks that I'm aware and I also still occasionally experience this kind of thing. If you have an active imagination and you've seen something that creeps you out, and you're by yourself on a dark night, your brain can fill in the gaps.

anyone who plays me the song "I Got Five On It" after about 10 pm is guaranteed to have a very nervous EC on their hands
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on June 14

This reminds me of a recent email I got from a friend who had just moved into an old house in England where odd things started happening. She asked the former tenants if they had experienced anything and they replied:

Our middle child, who stayed in that room, would often tell us of a "pink angel lady" that would come visit her and a "yellow bird" that would often fly around her room. She also told us that she could see colors around us when we slept.

Our oldest daughter would often also tell us of a boy and girl child that she would play with and speak to in the flat. At first we thought that these were imaginary friends. However, our daughter never mentioned this boy and girl when we were away from our flat. We went to visit my wife's parents in America, and our daughter never mentioned them. As soon as we returned to the flat holding our suitcases our daughter stated to us "oh good, boy and girl are here.

So, maybe ghosts, maybe kids' imagination. Maybe both.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:16 AM on June 16

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Mary Jeanne Vincent, Career Talk: Shiny object syndrome and your job hunt

Hunting for a job is hard work. It is easy to get distracted because it seems that almost anything is more fun than searching for a job, even cleaning the bathroom. However, it is not just the endless list of honey do’s that distract us, there are a myriad of shiny objects that put themselves in our path. Shiny object syndrome is the tendency to chase something new rather than focus on the goal at hand. A shiny object is anything that takes us away from our stated goal. In this case, taking immediate action on our job search. It might be a new, more exciting interim goal or, yet another certification. It could be the lure of a dream career, or must-have technology that is sure to make our life easier.

What does this sound like? “My current degree is outdated. I really should get an advanced degree. Maybe I should go into computer programming, internet marketing, zoology anything but this. This new credential is the hottest craze, it will make me more competitive. Once I get this new computer, chair, desk, equipment, I’ll be more productive.”

What are the downsides of shiny object syndrome? You don’t make any real progress on your job search. Daily life becomes a series of vast highs and lows as you lurch from one tempting new idea to the next. You give off the impression that you aren’t serious about finding a job. And, as your job search stretches on, you become increasingly frustrated, anxious and cynical.

What can you do to counter shiny object syndrome?

Write down your job search goals and keep them in front of you. Be sure they are specific and measurable, for example, make five networking calls a day, research one new company each day.

1. Identify and work on key must-do tasks: complete resume, update LinkedIn profile, create networking email script, research cover letter best practices, identify likely interview questions, prepare a 15-second intro, practice response to, “Why did you leave your last position?”

2. Keep the enticing sirens at bay by writing them down for review later, then continue working on the task at hand.

3. Set aside a specific time each day to explore the most tempting shiny objects. Do this after you have completed all of your job search tasks.

4. Adopt a wait-and-see approach. Hold off taking action for a week, if it still looks promising, do more research. Ask yourself about potential downsides to this course of action.

5. Evaluate the obvious and hidden costs of delaying your job search.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you contemplate latching onto the latest shiny object. Why is this new idea, path, direction so appealing? Is it in line with my long-term goals? Will it have an immediate impact on my future? How much will it cost me in time, money or credibility? What other priority will I need to let go of in order to accommodate it? If I am honest with myself, is this just another diversion? What am I avoiding?


The Frustration with Innovation: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effect on the nonprofit sector

One of the great things about our sector is how innovative it is. There are smart, talented, socially-conscious people—nonprofit staff, funders, researchers, boards, donors, volunteers. We come up with amazing ideas all the time. In the past few years we’ve had 40 Developmental Assets, and 21 st Century Skills. We’ve had evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. We have strategic planning, then strategic thinking. We have Collective Impact and Youth Program Quality Initiative. We have STEM. We have online learning. Some trends, like the importance of parental engagement in students’ academic performance, die and then resurface. I call them “Zombie Trends.” Now the latest trend is “We need to send more nonprofit staff to Hawaii so they can relax and recharge!”

All right, fine, that last one may not be an actual trend, though maybe it should be.

Lately, however, I’ve been encountering among my peers more and more frustration with funders’ seeming obsession with innovation. An ED friend called it the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS), this apparent inclination to drop everything and zoom in on the newest, sexiest concept to support, with sometimes negative consequences. The focus on early learning, for example, while important, has affected funding for youth programs, and the shift to collective impact has not always been positive (see “ Collective Impact: Resistance is futile “).

Look, innovation is great, and lots of new models and practices in our field are awesome. We should always be trying out new concepts and shifting paradigms and harvesting synergy and stuff. The frustration comes when it seems like some funders (and even nonprofits) are seeking a magic bullet, a panacea, a Holy Grail, a McRib to all of society’s problems, and they follow this quest at cost of good programs and organizations. A program officer, for example, once told me his influential foundation was no longer funding direct service programs in order to focus more on systems work, and thus would not be able to support my nonprofit’s proven after-school program that serves low-income kids, though they had supported similar programs in the past. This was one of the few times I went back to my office and broke into the emergency minibar in my cubicle.

At some point innovation becomes like the hundreds of weight-loss fads we have had: The grapefruit diet, the watermelon diet, the cavemen diet, the lemonade diet, the blood type diet, the hCG hormone diet, the Atkins diet, the cotton ball diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, the baby food diet, etc. Every week there’s some new diet. Our society’s unrealistic expectations of body image is a topic for another day. The point here is that many people are trying to lose weight, and many are resorting to some ridiculous and occasionally harmful “innovations.” Some may succeed with these crazy diets, but the majority fail, because when it comes to healthy body weight, it comes down to two factors: sensible eating and exercise. It may be unfair to parallel innovations in the nonprofit sector with ridiculous dieting fads, but that is often what it feels like to us on the ground.

While we must continue to seek innovation, we cannot ignore these critical factors below. These unsexy, overlooked critical factors. They are the “sensible eating and exercise” of social justice and we will always have a need for them:

    • Direct service programming. It would be really great if the nonprofit sector is not needed. All of us would then go pursue our dreams of being a wedding photographer or chef or the first vegan American Ninja Warrior or something. But the sad reality is that direct services will ALWAYS be needed. ALWAYS! Changing systems and policies and stuff, that’s critical, but individual lives are at stake every day and we must do macro-level stuff simultaneously with, not in lieu of, direct programs. People who think we are wasting time with direct service programs, that they are just Band-Aid solutions, and that we must choose policies and systems over direct service are delusional.
    • Existing, proven programs. It is very frustrating when funders only want to fund new programs. Many of us are struggling to comprehend the reason behind this. This is totally BSOS. Programs that have been around for a while are not as sexy, true. But it takes time for a program to reach a level of quality and effectiveness, and now you don’t want to fund them. And what irks many of us is that most of these funders are simultaneously asking about sustainability (See “ The Sustainability Question: Why it is so annoying .”) We need support for new as well as existing programs.
    • Capacity building: There are few things that are as unsexy as “capacity building.” The term lately has been generating groans and eye-rolling. Capacity building is the “exercise” in the social justice weight-loss plan, if you know what I mean. But it is essential. Organizations and programs need strong infrastructure to support them or they will suck or disappear. There are so many things we are expected to do—diversify funding, increase sustainability, retain staff, evaluate programs, etc., all these things that fall under capacity building—and yet few funders/donors actually want to pay for them.
    • Nonprofit professionals: We hear of major corporations investing in high-school or even elementary and middle school students, focusing on STEM education, guiding many of these kids to grow up to be engineers and scientists. And we have TV shows guiding them to become attractive and promiscuous doctors and lawyers. How much investment goes into developing nonprofit professionals? I don’t have any figures, but I would venture that it is substantially less. It is PEOPLE who are doing work, not nonprofit elves. We are dealing with society’s most entrenched and complicated problems, like poverty and homelessness and education disparity and domestic violence. We cannot just hope that smart and talented people will magically enter the field. Those of us who are in the field, meanwhile, need support and professional development to keep us in the field.
    • Leadership: Nonprofit leaders are burning out like shooting stars (“Look, Timmy, another ED just left her position. Make a wish!”) Yet so little support is provided for leadership skills development, including self-care and renewal. The next-in-line staff see the toll that the work takes on EDs and CEOs and it makes many of them want to stay far away. We must invest more to develop and sustain leaders in our field. BSOS is probably one of the factors that lead to burnout among leaders.
    • Volunteer management. Does any other sector leverage as much in terms of volunteer time and talents? A friend told me that about every 2000 hours of volunteer time collected is basically the equivalent of one full-time staff. With the nonprofit funding structure being so unstable and unpredictable, we must all rely on dedicated volunteers. This will not go away anytime soon. Yet how many organizations have paid volunteer managers or a budget to sustain volunteers? This is an underappreciated and overlooked area that we need to pay more attention to.

    What other things am I missing? These factors above are not “innovative” and cutting edge. Like a balanced diet and regular exercise, they are not new and sexy. But they are what are driving the work, and they need to be appreciated and supported. While we should continue to explore and try new things and change the way we do stuff from time to time, these essential factors are not going to be obsolete anytime soon. If anything, they will continue to be more and more important as our society and world become more populated and complex. They must be funded simultaneously and consistently.

    As a final note, we all need to appreciate the funders who do understand the importance of supporting these nonsexy elements of our work. This week call or email your funders who are funding general operating, capacity building, leadership, volunteer management, staff development, tried-and-true programming, or other boring, non-innovative stuff and thank them. Chances are, they don’t hear enough of that (See “ General operating funds, admin expenses, and why we nonprofits are our own worst enemies .”)


    Bright Shiny Object Syndrome: Don’t Buy Anything Else!

    Recently I received an email from a popular internet marketer who was talking about how much money people spend on getting ONE more product, ONE more coaching program, or ONE more sure-fire system. It reminded me that we all need to stop planning and buying and take action!

    There was a time about two years ago when I was in three different coaching programs briefly at the same time. (Yep, that&rsquos crazy pants.) They were all more or less marketing related, but they each had a different spin.

    I got a lot out of each one, and always enjoy learning and planning, but I was so busy listening to the calls and doing all the homework, that I really didn&rsquot take good effective action on any one of the programs. That is a lot of money and time invested for no return!

    Inevitably many of us fall prey to the need to continually learn, and then we never get out there and put that learning into practice. Obviously, that was a problem for me.

    • Have you invested a lot of time, money and effort into your continuing education all in the name of becoming better in your business?
    • Are you subscribing to lots of newsletters, blogs, and podcasts and feeling a little overwhelmed?
    • Have you listened to or at least downloaded every podcast and webinar you can find that remotely sounds like it might help?

    Quit wasting your time, money, and mental energy on all of this. It&rsquos time to pare down to just one thing and take some action. You&rsquove got to stop the incoming information and process what you have and do something with it. Only in this way are you going to take serious steps forward in your business.

    Here are some things you should do to stop bright shiny object syndrome.


    Three Tips For Avoiding 'Shiny Object Syndrome' In Marketing

    From a reasonably long career in marketing, I can say with confidence that most marketers are drawn to new ideas. We often enjoy finding new ways to engage with our audiences, leveraging new technology to communicate more effectively and generally expanding the breadth of our marketing strategies and campaigns. It’s probably because most successful marketers have a natural inclination toward creativity. Not that we are all graphic designers (I am certainly not) or fantastic writers, but I find that even the most analytically minded marketers tend to have a well-developed creative side.

    This creativity and the ability to come up with new ideas and then execute them are vital to long-term success in just about any marketing role. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. For marketers, this can take the form of a version of “shiny object syndrome,” where the search for the next great idea or novel marketing tactic becomes the goal, rather than the actual performance of a campaign.

    With this in mind, here are a few strategies to help marketers continue coming up with great ideas and new tactics to test, while not chasing every interesting marketing opportunity that presents itself.

    Evaluate New Ideas Critically

    Regularly coming up with and testing new ideas is vital for just about any marketing program. There aren’t many industries that don’t evolve significantly over time — some do so extremely quickly. At the same time, a marketer’s audiences (customers, prospects, etc.) are growing and changing as they adapt to the world around them. People adopt new forms of communication, change their media consumption behaviors and buying habits, and often discover that their needs and wants develop and grow over time.

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    So, no marketer can afford to simply stick to what worked last week, last month or last year and hope to continue seeing performance from their campaigns. The key is to always look for new opportunities, but then evaluate them critically before jumping in with both feet. Just because you run across a new social media platform with a novel way of engaging users doesn’t mean you have to immediately jump on the bandwagon and shift your attention and budget to the new channel. Think seriously about whether it makes sense for your audience. Does the channel even provide a way to grow your business?

    Avoid feeling pressured to take advantage of every opportunity immediately. Take a moment and a breath when considering a new marketing channel or idea, and think about how you would actually test it. If you give it some careful thought and it still makes sense, then, by all means, find a way to test it or incorporate it into your marketing plan.

    Focus On Your Goals

    This goes hand in hand with carefully evaluating a new opportunity, but includes maintaining a clear focus on what you are trying to achieve in your marketing strategy. If the goal of your program is all about driving incremental sales, then make sure that a new opportunity or idea makes sense in terms of driving the results you are already trying to achieve. It may be that you identify a great way to build visibility and awareness of your brand, but if it doesn’t include a clear path to that goal of driving sales, does it really make sense in your marketing strategy?

    You can probably identify new opportunities that don’t match up to your overall goals if the biggest benefits you can think of to describe the new idea boil down to it being “cool” or novel and creative. Again, there’s nothing wrong with cool ideas, but if they don’t line up with your goals, they’re not worth your efforts to test.

    Monitor Campaign Performance

    This may sound obvious, but one way to avoid being distracted by every exciting new marketing opportunity is to stay laser-focused on performance. When you evaluate every marketing channel, campaign and tactic with a performance metric in mind, it helps remind you of what works and what doesn’t. Much like focusing on your larger goals, measuring each campaign’s performance with key performance indicators (KPIs) will naturally steer you toward continuing to use strategies and tactics that deliver measurable performance.

    When you do decide to test an exciting new marketing channel, prioritizing performance will also help you determine if that new tactic is worth continuing once you see the results and how it ties into your other marketing efforts.

    Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?


    Is Only-Child Syndrome Real?

    Children without siblings have long been thought of as spoiled and selfish. Are the claims true?

    Only children always want to get their way, can&rsquot share and are generally selfish&mdashor so the long-held prejudice goes. According to recent research, however, these claims are overstated. So where did these biases come from?

    In A Study of Peculiar and Exceptional Children, published in the 19th century, E. W. Bohannon from Clark University in Massachusetts detailed the results of a questionnaire&mdasha new form of data collection at the time&mdashfilled out by 200 test subjects. In it he had asked respondents about the peculiarities of any only children they knew. In 196 cases participants described children without siblings as excessively spoiled.

    Bohannon&rsquos colleagues agreed with the results and the idea took hold. The widespread skepticism toward only children was further strengthened by the fact middle-class families were having fewer children and society&rsquos privileged class feared growth of the population&rsquos &ldquoinferior strata.&rdquo Furthermore, in the early 20th century, some were concerned that growing up without siblings causes children to become hypersensitive: If the parents concentrated all their worries and fears on one offspring, that child would become overly sensitive and eventually a hypochondriac with weak nerves.

    According to data compiled in the 21st century, however, these notions are nonsense and only children show no serious deficits. Toni Falbo, a psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, and an only child, opposes the idea you need brothers and sisters to grow into a decent person. In her 1986 survey, for which she examined more than 200 studies on the subject, she concluded the characteristics of children with and without siblings do not differ. The only difference, she found, was that only children seemed to have stronger bonds with their parents compared with children who had siblings.

    This idea was later confirmed by a 2018 study in which Andreas Klocke and Sven Stadtmüller from the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences used longitudinal data from around 10,000 German schoolchildren to track down the peculiarities of firstborns, only children and those with siblings. Among other things, they looked at the quality of the parent&ndashchild relationship, a metric measured by how easy it was for a child to speak with their parents about important matters.

    Twenty five percent of only children considered their relationship with their parents positive. Just under 24 percent of firstborns, 20 percent of middle children and 18 percent of youngest children also reported very good relationships with their parents.

    Despite having strong bonds with their parents, only children often regret having grown up without siblings. In 2001 Lisen Roberts of Western Carolina University and Priscilla Blanton of the University of Tennessee Knoxville asked young adults to look back on their childhoods. Many found it particularly unfortunate they did not have a trusted playmate as those with siblings had. In fact, preschool-aged only children often developed imaginary friends with whom they could be allies and share everyday things. But there&rsquos no reason for concern&mdashcreative play with imaginary companions promotes social development and the ability to communicate.

    There are, however, indications only children are less willing to come to terms with others. In new findings from China, where the one-child policy dictated family planning for nearly four decades, researchers led by psychologist Jiang Qiu of Southwest University, Chongqing, examined 126 students without siblings and 177 with siblings in terms of thinking ability and personality. In one survey only children achieved lower scores in terms of how tolerant they were. According to the five-factor model (FFM), a model of personality dimensions, particularly tolerant people are altruistic, helpful, compassionate and cooperative. Intolerant individuals are often characterized as quarrelsome, distrustful, egocentric and more competitive.

    The students were also asked to master a creativity test known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). For example, they had to come up with as many original uses for an everyday object, such as a tin can. As it turns out, only children seem to be better lateral thinkers, meaning they could solve problems more creatively, especially in the category of flexible thinking. This, the authors explain, could be because without siblings only children often had to rely on themselves and were thus forced to become inventive and resourceful at an early age.

    But that is not all. MRI tests revealed differences in brain structure. In the supramarginal gyrus, a cortical area associated with creativity and imagination, researchers found more gray matter (linked to intelligence) among only children. Researchers, however, discovered fewer gray cells in the frontal brain, more precisely in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), of only children than those with siblings. This deficit was accompanied by lower tolerance. Earlier studies also attributed important functions to this brain region when it comes to processing emotional information, including the ability to attribute feelings to others and regulating one's own emotions.

    How much influence the effect of being an only child has is questionable. It may depend on how many other opportunities an only child regularly has to develop his or her social and cognitive abilities. After all, only children are by no means cut off from social settings&mdashcontacts in kindergarten, for example, offer a varied interpersonal training ground. Parents likely have to work harder at teaching their only kids social skills and engineering opportunities where children would have to share their toys, books and parental attention. Otherwise, creating a loving and calm environment seems more important than the number of children in a household.


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    ADHD, Distraction, and Finishing Things

    When I was a kid, every once in a while I would hear my dad swear as he hit his head on a cabinet door I had left open. It was a really bad habit of mine. I would open cabinets doors and never, I mean never, remember to close them. Actually, nothing's changed. I still forget to close them. But my exhusband and current husband both learned to either close the doors themselves or duck. That's the kind of thing you laugh about, once you're finished swearing, I guess, as long as no one gets a concussion. But it's symptomatic of how bad I am at finishing things.

    For instance, there are my craft projects. I sew, knit and make jewelry. I love all three crafts and often consider cheating on them with other crafts like quilting or embroidery. But then I think of all the projects that I've started and then put down and tell myself that the last thing I need is the materials for yet another craft cluttering up our house.

    Yes, I know, a lot of people have unfinished craft projects hidden away in closets. But I have a full yarn closet (it's not a full-sized closet, but a shallow one with shelves). And then in my clothes closet I have more yarn and the abandoned knitting projects. About 15 of them. Then I have a trunk full of fabric that I bought and am planning to sew into all sorts of things, along with several plastic bins of patterns. In the garage I have another large plastic bin of fabric (we had to put it there since we were being squeezed out of our bedroom by craft materials). In the dining room I have a couple of plastic bins and one Trader Joe's shopping bag full of my jewelry making materials.

    "The shiny new object" syndrome

    A big part of the problem is that ADHD trait that I call "Oooh, shiny." I have a magnet on my fridge that my parents gave me. It says, "They say I have ADD, but they don't understand. Oh look A chicken!" That's about the size of it. Distractability is a big problem for me. So I see a project I absolutely love, buy the materials and get started. When does the boredom set in? Of course, it's different for each project, but I find that if it's too easy or too hard, I become very susceptible to a new knitting or sewing pattern. Maybe it's my short attention span. I'm not sure that's the same as being easily distracted, although in all probability they're closely related, at the very least.

    What a little understanding of ADHD does

    Once I was diagnosed with ADHD, I didn't start feeling better about these unfinished projects, per se. I didn't feel that ADHD absolved me of the need to address the problem and actually finish something once in a while. However, I did understand myself a little better, and that understanding did alleviate some of the "I'm a total loser I can't finish anything" feeling that would start to creep over me once in a while. I'm definitely not using ADHD a way to avoid addressing the issue. In fact, I think I'm a little better at addressing it. I know what I'm fighting against.

    Scheduling: A tool for distraction

    And I actually have started fighting it at work, because my tendency to forget about essential tasks was getting to be a problem. I schedule events into classrooms at a university. Basically, I schedule anything that isn't an academic class into the rooms. In the beginning of each semester, the events that I book can get bumped out of a room by an academic class. When this happens, I need to try to put the event into another room, and notify the requestor that their room has changed. Sometimes I can't find a replacement room, so I need to notify them that so they can make alternative arrangements.

    Obviously, this should be a pretty high priority. But I used to let myself get distracted by other tasks, and it could take days or even weeks for me to take care of this task.

    The importance of deadlines

    This was bad, very bad. A few times it screwed people up because they didn't get enough notice as to their new location, or complete lack of a location. I realized that I had to change how I was handling these bumps. So I made a rule for myself that all bumps had to be completed by the end of the first day I received them. It seemed to help a lot to set a specific deadline instead of just telling myself that it was high priority. Now, I still have tasks at work that fall through the cracks, but none of them are as crucial as that particular one.

    And you know what I just realized? I've even started closing cabinet doors more often. It took about forty years, but better late than never!

    Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.


    Digital experimentation: How to avoid the shiny object syndrome

    While the insurance industry is hearing a lot of messages these days about the importance of experimenting with new digital technologies — i.e. witness the increased use of terms such as “agility,” “nimble,” “pivoting,” and “failing fast” — a business strategy should guide the digital innovation, industry execs say.

    Brian Falchuk, managing partner of Insurance Evolution Partners, raised the issue of the so-called “shiny object syndrome” Tuesday at the Reuters webinar, Insurance 2021: The Customer Behaviour Changes that will Stay. He was paraphrasing a question from an audience member, who was concerned that constantly trying to pivot to new technologies might lead to an inconsistent experience for the consumer.

    “When architecting your solution so you can pivot easily, does that lead to [whiplash]?” Falchuk said, paraphrasing the question. “You keep changing things and ‘trying around.’ What’s the impact on the customers? Are there things you can do to be careful that we don’t end up with shiny object syndrome, where we’re saying, ‘Ooh, let’s do this instead,’ and maybe our customers become victims of that inconsistency?”

    Economical chief information officer Tatjana Lalkovic used the expression “architecting your solutions” earlier in her presentation, when she asked: “Are you architecting your solutions and ways of working in such a way that you can pivot and move with agility, leveraging all of the good things like cloud, automation, and platform consolidation, simplified technology, and integration patterns?

    “It’s going to be very important,” she continued. “A lot of emphasis is [placed] on emerging technologies and researching and finding use cases for that. It’s equally important to set yourself up so you can adopt them and adapt to changing customer expectations that will be driven by those emerging technologies and trends.”

    Answering the question from the audience, Lalkovic agreed there needs to be a structure, “an architecture,” underpinning the digital experimentation.

    “You still have to have a strategy, a road map, or a direction,” she replied. “The fact that you have this strategy…allows you to make trade-offs and really meaningful assessments about whether you pivot or not. Architecture for flexibility is…preventing you from creating a mess that gets you into trouble later.”

    In other words, the strategy guides the digital discovery process by laying out the principles that should not be compromised during the process of experimentation. Otherwise, if principles are compromised along the way, a company could be left with a complex, digital white elephant that costs a lot of money and meets neither the company objectives, nor consumer expectations.

    “You still have to have a direction…so you can stare down, ‘What are the trade-offs?’” said Lalkovic. “Not understanding the implications of the changes that you are making would get you into trouble.”

    Nathan LaFayette, chief insurance officer for CAA, framed the issue by saying strategy defines what the new digital technology is intended to do. It is then left to operations managers and their staff to come up with how the digital strategy is to be done. At this point, the experimentation begins.

    “Strategically, I think it’s important for leadership to say, ‘What is going to happen?’” LaFayette said. “What are we going to do? Communicate it, repeat it. Make sure that the entire organization is clear on what is intended.

    “I think the empowerment of people making the decisions, the people operating the business on a day-to-day basis, those who are on the front lines, that’s the ‘How?’ That’s where I think the flexibility comes in and possibly the experimentation.

    “As long as you are aligned on the what…there can be flexibility [with the how],” LaFayette said. “It’s not that you’re chasing shiny things on the how. What you are doing is figuring out the optimal way to execute the strategic goal. I think great organizations execute on strategies. The secret isn’t in the strategies, the secret is in the execution. That’s how good organizations separate themselves from average organizations, is in the how.”


    Mary Jeanne Vincent, Career Talk: Shiny object syndrome and your job hunt

    Hunting for a job is hard work. It is easy to get distracted because it seems that almost anything is more fun than searching for a job, even cleaning the bathroom. However, it is not just the endless list of honey do’s that distract us, there are a myriad of shiny objects that put themselves in our path. Shiny object syndrome is the tendency to chase something new rather than focus on the goal at hand. A shiny object is anything that takes us away from our stated goal. In this case, taking immediate action on our job search. It might be a new, more exciting interim goal or, yet another certification. It could be the lure of a dream career, or must-have technology that is sure to make our life easier.

    What does this sound like? “My current degree is outdated. I really should get an advanced degree. Maybe I should go into computer programming, internet marketing, zoology anything but this. This new credential is the hottest craze, it will make me more competitive. Once I get this new computer, chair, desk, equipment, I’ll be more productive.”

    What are the downsides of shiny object syndrome? You don’t make any real progress on your job search. Daily life becomes a series of vast highs and lows as you lurch from one tempting new idea to the next. You give off the impression that you aren’t serious about finding a job. And, as your job search stretches on, you become increasingly frustrated, anxious and cynical.

    What can you do to counter shiny object syndrome?

    Write down your job search goals and keep them in front of you. Be sure they are specific and measurable, for example, make five networking calls a day, research one new company each day.

    1. Identify and work on key must-do tasks: complete resume, update LinkedIn profile, create networking email script, research cover letter best practices, identify likely interview questions, prepare a 15-second intro, practice response to, “Why did you leave your last position?”

    2. Keep the enticing sirens at bay by writing them down for review later, then continue working on the task at hand.

    3. Set aside a specific time each day to explore the most tempting shiny objects. Do this after you have completed all of your job search tasks.

    4. Adopt a wait-and-see approach. Hold off taking action for a week, if it still looks promising, do more research. Ask yourself about potential downsides to this course of action.

    5. Evaluate the obvious and hidden costs of delaying your job search.

    Here are some questions to ask yourself as you contemplate latching onto the latest shiny object. Why is this new idea, path, direction so appealing? Is it in line with my long-term goals? Will it have an immediate impact on my future? How much will it cost me in time, money or credibility? What other priority will I need to let go of in order to accommodate it? If I am honest with myself, is this just another diversion? What am I avoiding?


    The Frustration with Innovation: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effect on the nonprofit sector

    One of the great things about our sector is how innovative it is. There are smart, talented, socially-conscious people—nonprofit staff, funders, researchers, boards, donors, volunteers. We come up with amazing ideas all the time. In the past few years we’ve had 40 Developmental Assets, and 21 st Century Skills. We’ve had evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. We have strategic planning, then strategic thinking. We have Collective Impact and Youth Program Quality Initiative. We have STEM. We have online learning. Some trends, like the importance of parental engagement in students’ academic performance, die and then resurface. I call them “Zombie Trends.” Now the latest trend is “We need to send more nonprofit staff to Hawaii so they can relax and recharge!”

    All right, fine, that last one may not be an actual trend, though maybe it should be.

    Lately, however, I’ve been encountering among my peers more and more frustration with funders’ seeming obsession with innovation. An ED friend called it the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS), this apparent inclination to drop everything and zoom in on the newest, sexiest concept to support, with sometimes negative consequences. The focus on early learning, for example, while important, has affected funding for youth programs, and the shift to collective impact has not always been positive (see “ Collective Impact: Resistance is futile “).

    Look, innovation is great, and lots of new models and practices in our field are awesome. We should always be trying out new concepts and shifting paradigms and harvesting synergy and stuff. The frustration comes when it seems like some funders (and even nonprofits) are seeking a magic bullet, a panacea, a Holy Grail, a McRib to all of society’s problems, and they follow this quest at cost of good programs and organizations. A program officer, for example, once told me his influential foundation was no longer funding direct service programs in order to focus more on systems work, and thus would not be able to support my nonprofit’s proven after-school program that serves low-income kids, though they had supported similar programs in the past. This was one of the few times I went back to my office and broke into the emergency minibar in my cubicle.

    At some point innovation becomes like the hundreds of weight-loss fads we have had: The grapefruit diet, the watermelon diet, the cavemen diet, the lemonade diet, the blood type diet, the hCG hormone diet, the Atkins diet, the cotton ball diet, the apple cider vinegar diet, the baby food diet, etc. Every week there’s some new diet. Our society’s unrealistic expectations of body image is a topic for another day. The point here is that many people are trying to lose weight, and many are resorting to some ridiculous and occasionally harmful “innovations.” Some may succeed with these crazy diets, but the majority fail, because when it comes to healthy body weight, it comes down to two factors: sensible eating and exercise. It may be unfair to parallel innovations in the nonprofit sector with ridiculous dieting fads, but that is often what it feels like to us on the ground.

    While we must continue to seek innovation, we cannot ignore these critical factors below. These unsexy, overlooked critical factors. They are the “sensible eating and exercise” of social justice and we will always have a need for them:

      • Direct service programming. It would be really great if the nonprofit sector is not needed. All of us would then go pursue our dreams of being a wedding photographer or chef or the first vegan American Ninja Warrior or something. But the sad reality is that direct services will ALWAYS be needed. ALWAYS! Changing systems and policies and stuff, that’s critical, but individual lives are at stake every day and we must do macro-level stuff simultaneously with, not in lieu of, direct programs. People who think we are wasting time with direct service programs, that they are just Band-Aid solutions, and that we must choose policies and systems over direct service are delusional.
      • Existing, proven programs. It is very frustrating when funders only want to fund new programs. Many of us are struggling to comprehend the reason behind this. This is totally BSOS. Programs that have been around for a while are not as sexy, true. But it takes time for a program to reach a level of quality and effectiveness, and now you don’t want to fund them. And what irks many of us is that most of these funders are simultaneously asking about sustainability (See “ The Sustainability Question: Why it is so annoying .”) We need support for new as well as existing programs.
      • Capacity building: There are few things that are as unsexy as “capacity building.” The term lately has been generating groans and eye-rolling. Capacity building is the “exercise” in the social justice weight-loss plan, if you know what I mean. But it is essential. Organizations and programs need strong infrastructure to support them or they will suck or disappear. There are so many things we are expected to do—diversify funding, increase sustainability, retain staff, evaluate programs, etc., all these things that fall under capacity building—and yet few funders/donors actually want to pay for them.
      • Nonprofit professionals: We hear of major corporations investing in high-school or even elementary and middle school students, focusing on STEM education, guiding many of these kids to grow up to be engineers and scientists. And we have TV shows guiding them to become attractive and promiscuous doctors and lawyers. How much investment goes into developing nonprofit professionals? I don’t have any figures, but I would venture that it is substantially less. It is PEOPLE who are doing work, not nonprofit elves. We are dealing with society’s most entrenched and complicated problems, like poverty and homelessness and education disparity and domestic violence. We cannot just hope that smart and talented people will magically enter the field. Those of us who are in the field, meanwhile, need support and professional development to keep us in the field.
      • Leadership: Nonprofit leaders are burning out like shooting stars (“Look, Timmy, another ED just left her position. Make a wish!”) Yet so little support is provided for leadership skills development, including self-care and renewal. The next-in-line staff see the toll that the work takes on EDs and CEOs and it makes many of them want to stay far away. We must invest more to develop and sustain leaders in our field. BSOS is probably one of the factors that lead to burnout among leaders.
      • Volunteer management. Does any other sector leverage as much in terms of volunteer time and talents? A friend told me that about every 2000 hours of volunteer time collected is basically the equivalent of one full-time staff. With the nonprofit funding structure being so unstable and unpredictable, we must all rely on dedicated volunteers. This will not go away anytime soon. Yet how many organizations have paid volunteer managers or a budget to sustain volunteers? This is an underappreciated and overlooked area that we need to pay more attention to.

      What other things am I missing? These factors above are not “innovative” and cutting edge. Like a balanced diet and regular exercise, they are not new and sexy. But they are what are driving the work, and they need to be appreciated and supported. While we should continue to explore and try new things and change the way we do stuff from time to time, these essential factors are not going to be obsolete anytime soon. If anything, they will continue to be more and more important as our society and world become more populated and complex. They must be funded simultaneously and consistently.

      As a final note, we all need to appreciate the funders who do understand the importance of supporting these nonsexy elements of our work. This week call or email your funders who are funding general operating, capacity building, leadership, volunteer management, staff development, tried-and-true programming, or other boring, non-innovative stuff and thank them. Chances are, they don’t hear enough of that (See “ General operating funds, admin expenses, and why we nonprofits are our own worst enemies .”)


      Three Tips For Avoiding 'Shiny Object Syndrome' In Marketing

      From a reasonably long career in marketing, I can say with confidence that most marketers are drawn to new ideas. We often enjoy finding new ways to engage with our audiences, leveraging new technology to communicate more effectively and generally expanding the breadth of our marketing strategies and campaigns. It’s probably because most successful marketers have a natural inclination toward creativity. Not that we are all graphic designers (I am certainly not) or fantastic writers, but I find that even the most analytically minded marketers tend to have a well-developed creative side.

      This creativity and the ability to come up with new ideas and then execute them are vital to long-term success in just about any marketing role. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. For marketers, this can take the form of a version of “shiny object syndrome,” where the search for the next great idea or novel marketing tactic becomes the goal, rather than the actual performance of a campaign.

      With this in mind, here are a few strategies to help marketers continue coming up with great ideas and new tactics to test, while not chasing every interesting marketing opportunity that presents itself.

      Evaluate New Ideas Critically

      Regularly coming up with and testing new ideas is vital for just about any marketing program. There aren’t many industries that don’t evolve significantly over time — some do so extremely quickly. At the same time, a marketer’s audiences (customers, prospects, etc.) are growing and changing as they adapt to the world around them. People adopt new forms of communication, change their media consumption behaviors and buying habits, and often discover that their needs and wants develop and grow over time.

      As Gun Ownership Rises In The United States, Black Imagery Shifts

      Forbes Launches Debut Simulcast Series, “The Takeaway With Moira Forbes,” Illuminating Vital Post-Pandemic Leadership Skills

      What Leaders Get Wrong About Workplace Wellbeing

      So, no marketer can afford to simply stick to what worked last week, last month or last year and hope to continue seeing performance from their campaigns. The key is to always look for new opportunities, but then evaluate them critically before jumping in with both feet. Just because you run across a new social media platform with a novel way of engaging users doesn’t mean you have to immediately jump on the bandwagon and shift your attention and budget to the new channel. Think seriously about whether it makes sense for your audience. Does the channel even provide a way to grow your business?

      Avoid feeling pressured to take advantage of every opportunity immediately. Take a moment and a breath when considering a new marketing channel or idea, and think about how you would actually test it. If you give it some careful thought and it still makes sense, then, by all means, find a way to test it or incorporate it into your marketing plan.

      Focus On Your Goals

      This goes hand in hand with carefully evaluating a new opportunity, but includes maintaining a clear focus on what you are trying to achieve in your marketing strategy. If the goal of your program is all about driving incremental sales, then make sure that a new opportunity or idea makes sense in terms of driving the results you are already trying to achieve. It may be that you identify a great way to build visibility and awareness of your brand, but if it doesn’t include a clear path to that goal of driving sales, does it really make sense in your marketing strategy?

      You can probably identify new opportunities that don’t match up to your overall goals if the biggest benefits you can think of to describe the new idea boil down to it being “cool” or novel and creative. Again, there’s nothing wrong with cool ideas, but if they don’t line up with your goals, they’re not worth your efforts to test.

      Monitor Campaign Performance

      This may sound obvious, but one way to avoid being distracted by every exciting new marketing opportunity is to stay laser-focused on performance. When you evaluate every marketing channel, campaign and tactic with a performance metric in mind, it helps remind you of what works and what doesn’t. Much like focusing on your larger goals, measuring each campaign’s performance with key performance indicators (KPIs) will naturally steer you toward continuing to use strategies and tactics that deliver measurable performance.

      When you do decide to test an exciting new marketing channel, prioritizing performance will also help you determine if that new tactic is worth continuing once you see the results and how it ties into your other marketing efforts.

      Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?


      Is there really a monster underneath the bed? June 12, 2021 6:50 PM Subscribe

      when I was about that age, I believed there were vampires living in the living room fireplace, and there was no way I was going in there by myself with the lights off. I may have had a dream of it or just imagined it but I was sure they were there and they were terrifying.

      It wasn't exactly the same kind of "knowing" that I do now as an adult but it wasn't all that different, really. It was like. it was plausible, that scary terrible things were there in the dark fireplace, and there was no evidence to disprove it, because they were only going to be there when it was dark and I was alone, so seeing the fireplace empty in the light was no assurance.

      (That said I of course don't know your kid, so can't speak to whether he could just be stalling. But in any event I'd let him keep whatever lights on that he wants to, at least until he's fallen asleep.)
      posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 PM on June 12 [7 favorites]

      I am not a parent and I am not a child psychologist. But I do remember VERY clearly what those nighttime fear-of-the-dark moments were like, well into when I was older grade-school age. It's not a conscious thing - it was never a conscious "If I say I am afraid of this I might get to stay up later" tactic. And at some level I did understand that the Big Scary Thing lurking in the dark for me couldn't possibly be there (especially since for me, and I'm not kidding about this, the Big Scary Thing I was convinced was waiting for me in the dark was a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast).

      I think that kids' imaginations are just so vivid that the "what-if" takes over sometimes, even when their rational brains "know" that the thing they're afraid of isn't really there. And when the kid is too young to have such a developed rational brain in the first place, the imagination is even more vivid. So my money is on "mental gymnastics" - he saw a picture of a "baboon man" or something in passing once, it creeped him out a little, and that image has lingered in his brain and he remembers it when it's already dark at night and he can't quite see what really is there around him in his room, so his brain offers up the what-if that "what if that creepy baboon thing you saw is lurking there" and the imagination takes over and he starts to believe it might be there.
      posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:47 PM on June 12 [12 favorites]

      Little kids are not, in general, engaged in Machiavellian schemes to manipulate parental behaviour. They haven't had time to develop theories of mind or society anywhere near accurate enough to make that work.

      What they are doing, every single one of them, the whole time they're awake, is tripping.

      This is why it's so vitally important to be kind to them. Bad trips cause bad flashbacks.
      posted by flabdablet at 10:09 PM on June 12 [54 favorites]

      The are types of sleep patterns that can cause the brain to do weird things just at the edge of consciousness. I’ve seen all sorts of creatures in rooms with me as I am falling asleep. It has taken a lot of work and effort and terrifying dreams to get to a point where I can avoid triggers that contribute to it happening and have slowly trained myself not to panic when I wake up and see a mini flying saucer flying across my room, or a giant spider lurking in the corner, or a fully realistic demon in the doorway.

      I would recommend a medical evaluation to see if there’s anything neurological going on, if there is, it will be so much healthier in the long run to understand it sooner rather than later.
      posted by HMSSM at 10:29 PM on June 12

      When I was a small kid, I had a phase where I was recurrently afraid that I'd wake up one morning, go into my parents' room, and find out that they'd been replaced either by a swarm of evil bees or by goats with glowing red demonic eyes (my parents also misheard "goats" as "ghosts" the first time I tried to communicate this fear, and were then surprised when my actual fear turned out to be much weirder than ghosts, for extra hilarity).

      Does he actually understand on some level that it isn’t real?

      I can still remember the weird mental state of that age, where I knew rationally on some level that those things happening were so improbable as to be functionally impossible (every single time I'd ever gone into their room, they'd been sleeping people, not evil goats or bees), but I was still very scared of both the image and the concept. I don't recall consuming any media around that age that would have planted those images for me - my best guess is that my brain invented them, found its own invention scary, invented a scenario in which I might be exposed to those images and found that invention scary too, while still knowing on some rational level (insofar as 4yos can be considered rational) that those images weren't real and the actual risk of my parents being turned into evil goats or bees was almost zero. So, yes, I did actually understand on some level that it wasn't real, but that didn't stop the images my brain was capable of generating from being vivid and frightening in a way that was pretty detached from any rational fear of the vivid, frightening thing happening in reality.
      posted by terretu at 2:04 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]

      Yes, there IS a monster under the bed.

      Your child is now at an age where there is substantial independence. Two years ago if he woke up in the middle of the night he was almost certain to either let you know by calling or crying, or by going to you. And you in turn were much more likely to check up on him and not to leave him unsupervised for more than a few moments.

      But now you are more likely to assume he will sleep through the night and to not be aware of what he might be doing while you are sleeping. Your two year old was unlikely to be able to move a chair to the front door and stand on it to unlock it. Your four year old is old enough to conceptualize ideas like, "I'm thirsty, I want pink soda, I'm going to the store to get pink soda," of "I want to play dolls with Michael from day care, so I am going to Michael's house" and act on it. Your four year old is much likelier to have longer legs and get farther than you two year old would. And while you want to foster independence and mastery at this age, you want it oh, so much, you do not want to wake up to discover that your four year old has gotten all the way to the local marsh, or the freeway, or the neighbour two blocks down that keeps a badly underfed doggie on a rope in the backyard to discourage interruptions in there business of selling crystal meth.

      But you can't explain to your four year old what all the hazards out there are, and expect them to remember and resolve firmly to avoid getting stuck in the crawl space behind the garbage chute in the basement of your building, or going into the apartment to accept a cookie from the nice lady you always wave to, two doors down, who has been silently building a spurious case of child neglect in her mind to report to child welfare, and not to play hide and seek in the parking garage with the unsupervised seven and eight year old that the nice lady more properly should be focusing her concerns on. There are way too many potential hazards for you to have even a remote chance of naming them, describing them and impressing them on your little guy as critically important. In fact if you DO manage to impress even a tenth of them on your little guy the nice lady two doors down will be justified in doubting your parenting skills because you will have a terrified, paralyzed traumatized four year old.

      Happily a kindly nature has seen fit to create the boogy man. You don't even have to mention the boggy man to induce a nervous awareness that it is much safer to stay in bed, and if you wake up pull the covers over your head so he can't see you, and never, never go wandering into dark corridors in strange places and never, never go down to the woods today unless you are firmly holding the hand of a parent or at least keep looking behind to make sure they are staying close enough to protect you.

      This feeling of dread that there is a monster out there is a human universal, which springs up spontaneously in kids of an age to start wandering, whether or not they are cautioned against the Mahaha who lies in wait in the snow, or the Qallupilluit who snatches children who go out on the sea ice, or Kappa who lurks in the river, or Boney the giant as tall as Rouen steeple who will come for children who are naughty and don't do as they are told, let alone the whole host of supernatural creatures that tell us that it is not a good idea to be in the vicinity of someone who had died unless the body has been carefully and kindly dealt with in a way that ensures we won't catch smallpox or be killed by the same coyotes, or fall down the same well or have our blood sucked, or be eaten or whatever the vengeful ghosts and undead in our area do. If you see a dead person, the instinct goes, and you are not the authority in charge of investigation and if you are not gathered together in a group ritual of mourning, get the hell out.

      The form this very real terror takes will depend on the person whose heart starts thumping madly when they are alone. A glimpse of a commercial or a video game, a moment seeing an undisguised expression, an instant of vertigo at the top of the stairs, rage when a soft toy comes apart, the sliminess of a dogs tongue when it greeted us exuberantly. The coalize into the shape of your personal monster. The edges remain a bit blurry as you gather more information to give the bloated predator shape. The man that lives in the hallway may turn into a healthy fear of strangers who might be pedophiles, or an unhealthy fear of people who don't wear the same brand of clothes or listen to the same kind of music we do. It might turn into a fear of electricians that don't attempt to comply to code, or to anyone who asserts the right to shoot anyone who frightens them.

      If you feel inchoate fear you will be paralyzed. You need to have an idea who and what the monsters are so that some movement is safe. The boogy man is under the bed, or in the closet, or in the marsh. If you mumble 'MathewMarkLukeanJohnWickedcreaturesallbegone!" the one under the bed can't grab your foot, if you turn on the light at three in morning the vampire in the closet will turn into ash, if you never go down to the marsh at twilight you will never see the willo-the-wisp and be lured to your doom, and if you never ever stick anything into an electric outlet the monster that lives inside the wall will not zap you, if you go straight to the doctor if you find a lump under the skin the crab that lives within will never grow tentacles.

      Of course it's real. Believing in monsters and the rituals that protect us is the only reason so many of us ever survive.
      posted by Jane the Brown at 4:26 AM on June 13 [91 favorites]

      ^ is an absolutely gorgeous comment thank you!

      What I remember about this stage as a kid was my inability to generalize. That is, I was absolutely terrified of tornadoes thanks to an extraordinarily cruel elementary-school teacher who showed us a tornado documentary. The innocuous movement of tree-branch shadows on the ceiling of my bedroom made me worry about tornadoes for many months afterward, because I couldn't make the logical leap "it's been harmless for the last n nights, so chances are it's fine."
      posted by humbug at 5:40 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]

      I think it’s useful to remember that kids have started out in the world knowing nothing and every day before breakfast we grown-ups tell them things that are utterly fantastical, where they can’t comprehend the explanation, so we just expect them to believe it.

      This shiny, smooth cylinder? Mummy’s hands are so clever and strong, and so different from yours, that she’s going to twist the top of it in just the right way, and it’ll open, in a way that would be impossible for you, with your tiny, uncoordinated hands. And then - look inside! This hard shiny object has delicious breakfast-tasting goo hidden inside it! I’m not going to explain the process of baby food manufacture to you, little one, so you’ll just have to believe me that this is the way the world is. And so on. Every single thing a tiny child sees is inexplicable to them and we just expect them to believe us when we tell them that’s the way it is.

      So I think, even at 4, their sense of what’s real and explicable, and what’s not, is so much more flexible and permeable than ours. It has to be, in order to learn the massive amount they have to learn about the world. They have to be open to so many possibilities and just trust that they’re true even when they don’t understand them. They’ve not yet reached the point where they’ve had the chance to run through most human experiences and set up the boundaries that adults use to divide them into “explicable and therefore probably real” or “inexplicable and therefore probably not real”, or to have the background knowledge of processes and practices, that would enable them when they encounter something novel, to deduct which category it falls into and rely on their deduction.

      Combine that with things like inchoate fear or half wake/dreamy states, that even adults find hard to parse out, and suddenly it seems kind of reasonable that if you think there might be a monster under your bed, it might be true.

      Add in the fact that grown-ups, who know everything, are in the habit of sitting them down, and reading them stories about bears that talk and monsters that live in the woods, and it’s no wonder they believe in the monster under the bed!
      posted by penguin pie at 7:32 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]

      Explain to your child that as we get near sleep, our imaginations are active, and always reassure your child that they are safe, that you will protect them.

      Seconding this - this can be a powerful message. Especially if it gets their active imaginations working towards a comforting image - another thing I remember from being a child is one night when I was awake in the middle of the night, suddenly irrationally afraid of vampires or something coming to attack the house - and suddenly I remembered that "wait, Mom and Dad would wake up and hear a vampire if it tried to come in, and would get up and stand in the way of the door to my room." And I went on to also remember that they'd probably also call the police on the way to come help. And maybe a fireman if they could help. And maybe the Army. And other neighbors would probably also see and come help.

      And as I lay there thinking about that, the image popped into my head of my parents standing guard in front of my door, with the police standing in front of them, and firemen standing in front of THEM, and a whole platoon of people about ten-deep filling our kitchen by now, and gradually more and more neighbors joining this crowd standing around our house, all of them angrily staring down a vampire that was suddenly changing its mind about whether it was going to come up our driveway. And. it helped. It still took me a little while to fall asleep, but any time the dark started wigging me out I pictured all those people standing between me and the monsters outside and it settled me down.

      Your little one has an active imagination, and triggering that to cough up soothing and comforting images can help here.
      posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:49 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]

      I still very vividly remember one night when I was a teen babysitting for a preschooler who was not very good about bedtimes. He was being kind of a pain in the ass and kept waking up and yelling for me and one of the times I went up he said, “I can’t sleep because there’s a bad man in the room,” and he was visibly distressed, and I was all, “There’s no bad man, you don’t need to worry!” and I asked, “Where’s the bad man?” thinking he would say, “In the closet,” or whatever and I would go over and open the closet and show it to be free from Bad Men, but instead he looked and pointed at a spot behind me, in a part of the room I really hadn’t even looked at, and he said, “He’s right there,” and he clearly 100% was seeing a bad man just over my shoulder and it was probably the scariest thing that happened to me that year.

      Anyway, presumably he was having some kind of night terror. I myself very occasionally wake up believing something that isn’t true, like that owls have been nesting in my bedroom for the past several weeks (took me about 5 minutes to realize that this was extremely implausible) or that my cousin is getting divorced (didn’t figure out that that was a dream until the next day when I was like, “Wait, who told me that? How would I even know?”). We all think weird things when we’re sleepy and little kids have much less context to help them understand what’s likely vs. what’s basically impossible.
      posted by mskyle at 6:08 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

      I have a neurological quirk where I still occasionally experience these things, often at bedtime. (Using the singular a little loosely here.) Anyways, yes, for sure it's real to the child - I don't actually have a required bedtime nor any parents to manipulate and yet, still sometimes have nights like that.

      With my kids we either had a go-away magic phrase (ours was. ahem. 'So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu, adieu, adieu, to yeu and yeu and yeu' or any of the other parts of that song) or monster spray (a bit of eau de toilette.) As parents we kind of walked a fine line. we dealt with the belief but in a kind of slightly detached way that also conveyed that it was a bit pretend for us - hard to describe but kind of 'oh, really? well that's nice dear, if that happened to me I would. " undercurrent. They seem to have turned out ok so far.

      To add to the 'weird stories of bedtime beliefs,' my parents took me to the drive in believing I would fall asleep and instead, there was this very repetitive musical motif that would keep waking me up and so I would pop my head up from the back seat. and that is how a) I developed a belief until my 20s that Jaws was exclusively shot from the point of view of the shark and b) I developed a fear which I entirely knew was absolutely irrational that there was a shark under the bed that would graphically bite me.

      I recently read the Outside Online Bite Club article during a bout of insomnia and almost got that fear back even though I've actually gotten over it enough to sit with a shark on my lap at a tourist thing.
      posted by warriorqueen at 6:34 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

      Kids have wild imaginations, and they take things they don't understand and fit them into things they do understand. Doesn't even have to be scary. My mom asked my young sister to explain the radio once when she was 3 or 4. Hilarious explanation.

      I used to live across the street from a windmill that screeched at night when it turned. My brother and I were scared of that thing until one day my dad took me out in the middle of the night and showed me the windmill making the noise. I wasn't scared of the dark anymore after that and am still not.
      posted by The_Vegetables at 7:39 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

      One of my friends took her child to see some Star Wars iteration with a Sith Lord in it. Her child loved Star Wars, but as the theater darkened and the movie showed the Sith Lord, he completely panicked to the point that they had to leave.

      I saw this happen, most probably to a different child, at a 1985 rerelease of Star Wars. A father had brought his five-ish-year-old son, and the kid was an authority on the Star Wars universe, based I guess entirely on the toys. He described to his dad all the characters and explained the story in great and correct detail, despite never having seen the movie. And just as effluvia described: the lights went down, the film started, the big ship caught the little ship, the stormtroopers burst in, and I could hear the kid get more and more upset as the tension ratcheted up. and when Darth Vader appeared through the smoke, he started screaming uncontrollably. Dad had to take him out, and he certainly didn't get to see the movie that day.

      I wonder if it changed his relationship to some of the toys.
      posted by Devoidoid at 12:14 PM on June 14

      I have a neurological quirk where I still occasionally experience these things, often at bedtime.

      Hell, I don't have any neurological quirks that I'm aware and I also still occasionally experience this kind of thing. If you have an active imagination and you've seen something that creeps you out, and you're by yourself on a dark night, your brain can fill in the gaps.

      anyone who plays me the song "I Got Five On It" after about 10 pm is guaranteed to have a very nervous EC on their hands
      posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:00 PM on June 14

      This reminds me of a recent email I got from a friend who had just moved into an old house in England where odd things started happening. She asked the former tenants if they had experienced anything and they replied:

      Our middle child, who stayed in that room, would often tell us of a "pink angel lady" that would come visit her and a "yellow bird" that would often fly around her room. She also told us that she could see colors around us when we slept.

      Our oldest daughter would often also tell us of a boy and girl child that she would play with and speak to in the flat. At first we thought that these were imaginary friends. However, our daughter never mentioned this boy and girl when we were away from our flat. We went to visit my wife's parents in America, and our daughter never mentioned them. As soon as we returned to the flat holding our suitcases our daughter stated to us "oh good, boy and girl are here.

      So, maybe ghosts, maybe kids' imagination. Maybe both.
      posted by gottabefunky at 10:16 AM on June 16

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      Is Only-Child Syndrome Real?

      Children without siblings have long been thought of as spoiled and selfish. Are the claims true?

      Only children always want to get their way, can&rsquot share and are generally selfish&mdashor so the long-held prejudice goes. According to recent research, however, these claims are overstated. So where did these biases come from?

      In A Study of Peculiar and Exceptional Children, published in the 19th century, E. W. Bohannon from Clark University in Massachusetts detailed the results of a questionnaire&mdasha new form of data collection at the time&mdashfilled out by 200 test subjects. In it he had asked respondents about the peculiarities of any only children they knew. In 196 cases participants described children without siblings as excessively spoiled.

      Bohannon&rsquos colleagues agreed with the results and the idea took hold. The widespread skepticism toward only children was further strengthened by the fact middle-class families were having fewer children and society&rsquos privileged class feared growth of the population&rsquos &ldquoinferior strata.&rdquo Furthermore, in the early 20th century, some were concerned that growing up without siblings causes children to become hypersensitive: If the parents concentrated all their worries and fears on one offspring, that child would become overly sensitive and eventually a hypochondriac with weak nerves.

      According to data compiled in the 21st century, however, these notions are nonsense and only children show no serious deficits. Toni Falbo, a psychologist at The University of Texas at Austin, and an only child, opposes the idea you need brothers and sisters to grow into a decent person. In her 1986 survey, for which she examined more than 200 studies on the subject, she concluded the characteristics of children with and without siblings do not differ. The only difference, she found, was that only children seemed to have stronger bonds with their parents compared with children who had siblings.

      This idea was later confirmed by a 2018 study in which Andreas Klocke and Sven Stadtmüller from the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences used longitudinal data from around 10,000 German schoolchildren to track down the peculiarities of firstborns, only children and those with siblings. Among other things, they looked at the quality of the parent&ndashchild relationship, a metric measured by how easy it was for a child to speak with their parents about important matters.

      Twenty five percent of only children considered their relationship with their parents positive. Just under 24 percent of firstborns, 20 percent of middle children and 18 percent of youngest children also reported very good relationships with their parents.

      Despite having strong bonds with their parents, only children often regret having grown up without siblings. In 2001 Lisen Roberts of Western Carolina University and Priscilla Blanton of the University of Tennessee Knoxville asked young adults to look back on their childhoods. Many found it particularly unfortunate they did not have a trusted playmate as those with siblings had. In fact, preschool-aged only children often developed imaginary friends with whom they could be allies and share everyday things. But there&rsquos no reason for concern&mdashcreative play with imaginary companions promotes social development and the ability to communicate.

      There are, however, indications only children are less willing to come to terms with others. In new findings from China, where the one-child policy dictated family planning for nearly four decades, researchers led by psychologist Jiang Qiu of Southwest University, Chongqing, examined 126 students without siblings and 177 with siblings in terms of thinking ability and personality. In one survey only children achieved lower scores in terms of how tolerant they were. According to the five-factor model (FFM), a model of personality dimensions, particularly tolerant people are altruistic, helpful, compassionate and cooperative. Intolerant individuals are often characterized as quarrelsome, distrustful, egocentric and more competitive.

      The students were also asked to master a creativity test known as the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). For example, they had to come up with as many original uses for an everyday object, such as a tin can. As it turns out, only children seem to be better lateral thinkers, meaning they could solve problems more creatively, especially in the category of flexible thinking. This, the authors explain, could be because without siblings only children often had to rely on themselves and were thus forced to become inventive and resourceful at an early age.

      But that is not all. MRI tests revealed differences in brain structure. In the supramarginal gyrus, a cortical area associated with creativity and imagination, researchers found more gray matter (linked to intelligence) among only children. Researchers, however, discovered fewer gray cells in the frontal brain, more precisely in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), of only children than those with siblings. This deficit was accompanied by lower tolerance. Earlier studies also attributed important functions to this brain region when it comes to processing emotional information, including the ability to attribute feelings to others and regulating one's own emotions.

      How much influence the effect of being an only child has is questionable. It may depend on how many other opportunities an only child regularly has to develop his or her social and cognitive abilities. After all, only children are by no means cut off from social settings&mdashcontacts in kindergarten, for example, offer a varied interpersonal training ground. Parents likely have to work harder at teaching their only kids social skills and engineering opportunities where children would have to share their toys, books and parental attention. Otherwise, creating a loving and calm environment seems more important than the number of children in a household.


      ADHD, Distraction, and Finishing Things

      When I was a kid, every once in a while I would hear my dad swear as he hit his head on a cabinet door I had left open. It was a really bad habit of mine. I would open cabinets doors and never, I mean never, remember to close them. Actually, nothing's changed. I still forget to close them. But my exhusband and current husband both learned to either close the doors themselves or duck. That's the kind of thing you laugh about, once you're finished swearing, I guess, as long as no one gets a concussion. But it's symptomatic of how bad I am at finishing things.

      For instance, there are my craft projects. I sew, knit and make jewelry. I love all three crafts and often consider cheating on them with other crafts like quilting or embroidery. But then I think of all the projects that I've started and then put down and tell myself that the last thing I need is the materials for yet another craft cluttering up our house.

      Yes, I know, a lot of people have unfinished craft projects hidden away in closets. But I have a full yarn closet (it's not a full-sized closet, but a shallow one with shelves). And then in my clothes closet I have more yarn and the abandoned knitting projects. About 15 of them. Then I have a trunk full of fabric that I bought and am planning to sew into all sorts of things, along with several plastic bins of patterns. In the garage I have another large plastic bin of fabric (we had to put it there since we were being squeezed out of our bedroom by craft materials). In the dining room I have a couple of plastic bins and one Trader Joe's shopping bag full of my jewelry making materials.

      "The shiny new object" syndrome

      A big part of the problem is that ADHD trait that I call "Oooh, shiny." I have a magnet on my fridge that my parents gave me. It says, "They say I have ADD, but they don't understand. Oh look A chicken!" That's about the size of it. Distractability is a big problem for me. So I see a project I absolutely love, buy the materials and get started. When does the boredom set in? Of course, it's different for each project, but I find that if it's too easy or too hard, I become very susceptible to a new knitting or sewing pattern. Maybe it's my short attention span. I'm not sure that's the same as being easily distracted, although in all probability they're closely related, at the very least.

      What a little understanding of ADHD does

      Once I was diagnosed with ADHD, I didn't start feeling better about these unfinished projects, per se. I didn't feel that ADHD absolved me of the need to address the problem and actually finish something once in a while. However, I did understand myself a little better, and that understanding did alleviate some of the "I'm a total loser I can't finish anything" feeling that would start to creep over me once in a while. I'm definitely not using ADHD a way to avoid addressing the issue. In fact, I think I'm a little better at addressing it. I know what I'm fighting against.

      Scheduling: A tool for distraction

      And I actually have started fighting it at work, because my tendency to forget about essential tasks was getting to be a problem. I schedule events into classrooms at a university. Basically, I schedule anything that isn't an academic class into the rooms. In the beginning of each semester, the events that I book can get bumped out of a room by an academic class. When this happens, I need to try to put the event into another room, and notify the requestor that their room has changed. Sometimes I can't find a replacement room, so I need to notify them that so they can make alternative arrangements.

      Obviously, this should be a pretty high priority. But I used to let myself get distracted by other tasks, and it could take days or even weeks for me to take care of this task.

      The importance of deadlines

      This was bad, very bad. A few times it screwed people up because they didn't get enough notice as to their new location, or complete lack of a location. I realized that I had to change how I was handling these bumps. So I made a rule for myself that all bumps had to be completed by the end of the first day I received them. It seemed to help a lot to set a specific deadline instead of just telling myself that it was high priority. Now, I still have tasks at work that fall through the cracks, but none of them are as crucial as that particular one.

      And you know what I just realized? I've even started closing cabinet doors more often. It took about forty years, but better late than never!

      Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.


      Bright Shiny Object Syndrome: Don’t Buy Anything Else!

      Recently I received an email from a popular internet marketer who was talking about how much money people spend on getting ONE more product, ONE more coaching program, or ONE more sure-fire system. It reminded me that we all need to stop planning and buying and take action!

      There was a time about two years ago when I was in three different coaching programs briefly at the same time. (Yep, that&rsquos crazy pants.) They were all more or less marketing related, but they each had a different spin.

      I got a lot out of each one, and always enjoy learning and planning, but I was so busy listening to the calls and doing all the homework, that I really didn&rsquot take good effective action on any one of the programs. That is a lot of money and time invested for no return!

      Inevitably many of us fall prey to the need to continually learn, and then we never get out there and put that learning into practice. Obviously, that was a problem for me.

      • Have you invested a lot of time, money and effort into your continuing education all in the name of becoming better in your business?
      • Are you subscribing to lots of newsletters, blogs, and podcasts and feeling a little overwhelmed?
      • Have you listened to or at least downloaded every podcast and webinar you can find that remotely sounds like it might help?

      Quit wasting your time, money, and mental energy on all of this. It&rsquos time to pare down to just one thing and take some action. You&rsquove got to stop the incoming information and process what you have and do something with it. Only in this way are you going to take serious steps forward in your business.

      Here are some things you should do to stop bright shiny object syndrome.



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