Ooh, shiny! Me likey.

Do institutions suffer from shiny new object syndrome?  It may appear so with all the time and attention devoted to leveraging the next great thing to help them engage students.  But how often do these new toys pan out?  Remember all the hype surrounding Second Life back in 2007? 

Institutions and brands of all shapes and sizes took part in the virtual land grab that SL had to offer. They built it, often investing lots of money, and ultimately “they” did not come.  Today, many of the site’s once promising venues have a rather ghost-town feel to them.

One of my favorite bloggers, Tom Fishburne, found a great quote from Ted Simon which sums it up well:

“In this headlong rush of confusing a tactic with a strategy, organizations waste time, energy, resources chasing a “shiny new object.”

We’ve written about strategy vs. tactics here in the past.  However, I’m not saying that institutions shouldn’t experiment and try new things…despite all the duds there are certainly a few new toys out there that are worth keeping…but they should be careful about becoming obsessed with trying something new, especially if it distracts from your core focus.  

If that’s the case, then perhaps instead of asking yourself, “how can I use this?” you should be asking these questions instead: “should I use this?” and “will this help us meet our strategic objectives?” 

Or, as Chris Brogan puts it, “Pursue the goal not the method.”

Inevitably, what winds up happening is that institutions will get so worked up about missing the boat on the “next big thing” that they rush to “be there” without thinking things through.  As a result, you have many half-hearted attempts to build a massive online presence and oftentimes one or more of your communities becomes neglected.  This is certainly true with respect to the slew of social networking options that are out there, but it does not only apply to social networking.  

Perhaps it’s time for institutions to exercise the Unix Philosophy, which is (to paraphrase) to do one thing and do it well.  Once you’ve done that well, move on to something else and do that well.  

In short: Measure and optimize your existing efforts before opening up the box on that new shiny toy.