We recently finished our AIM innovations course and are starting the information management course. As I transition between the two, I can’t help but think of the shiny penny syndrome. A new shiny penny is perceived to be more valuable and sought after than an old tarnished penny, even though the two have the same value. This metaphor has been used in dating to describe a new love interest versus an old one but is also applicable to business and technology. In this blog I want to talk about the pitfalls of chasing after shiny pennies when perhaps the old penny just needs cleaning and polishing.
Often there are good reasons to implement new technologies, like the end of support for a legacy system or the need to interface with other updated programs or systems. The new technology can also result in efficiency gains and long term cost savings. When developing an innovation or technology plan it is important to ask whether this technology is a shiny penny or will it improve your throughput and create real revenue gains or cost savings. Acknowledging this early on will save time and resources that can be spent on improving the existing technology or choosing a new solution that really will deliver benefits.
Businesses often chase after shiny pennies when they choose to acquire other companies to augment or enhance their own offerings. The wisdom is that it is easier to buy existing capabilities as opposed to trying to develop them from the ground up. This strategy often works, but sometimes it is a case of chasing a shiny penny. I have been involved in IT integration of acquisitions in the past and after a deep dive it is apparent that there was more flash than substance in the purchase. While it would have taken longer, the organization could have developed the same capability for less money and gained valuable experience in the process.
New leadership sometimes resembles a shiny penny. It’s tempting to think a new CEO or CIO will bring fresh ideas that will help get us turned around or get us back on track. While it sometimes works, there may be deeper systemic issues that can’t be solved with a new manager or a new team. After the honeymoon period, the old problems surface and the new leader can’t get any better traction than the previous executive, and then the new leader is sometimes replaced by even a newer, shinier penny. We can stop this rotating door by honestly acknowledging that we are trying to compensate for unresolved deep-seated issues with the organization or processes. It is admittedly hard to recognize and fix the real issues but doing so leaves us in a better position to succeed in the future.
Next time you face a major change such as new leadership or a new technology or adding new capabilities through a merger or acquisition, take just a second to acknowledge whether this is a new shiny penny or will it truly leave the organization in a better position to be competitive and successful.
Have you ever chased after a shiny penny? Did it work out? Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about your experience.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.