Bright Shiny Objects and Business Strategy for Accountants: The Technology Paradox

By Posted in - Public Blog on September 16th, 2016 0 Comments

bright shiny objects business strategy for accounting firms

There I was, all excited, lined up at the cash register. I’d just dragged up to the counter a large box from the middle of the sporting goods store. It was good exercise, I felt—certainly compared with my inactivity levels of late—just getting the box up onto the counter.

You see, earlier that day I’d decided it was time to lift my game on the exercise front. So I figured the solution was to buy an exercise bike. I calculated that in the time it took just to drive to and from the local gym, I could get in my daily dose of aerobic exercise to burn off the ‘stored energy’ I’d built up in recent months around my midriff.

I’d let my health slip by burning the candle at both ends—I was going to class by night—doing my MBA in innovation and entrepreneurship at the time—plus I was building a medical device start-up by day (and night!). So time efficiency in getting my daily exercise done was key.

Back to the cash register line-up… There I was, certain my impending purchase was the solution. I knew I was going to be disciplined and consistent in using it.

Then as the retail assistant was scanning the barcode on the box and processing the transaction, he turned to his colleague at the next register and said slyly to him, “Well, here goes another dust collector.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. On two counts. He clearly thought I was deaf. And I was flabbergasted that someone could be so tactless and un-customer-focused. I’m sure there wasn’t a section on “Sarcastic Comments to Deflate Customers’ Enthusiasm” in the retailer’s training manual.

Then, as quick as a flash, the other cashier replied, “Oh, yeah. Destined for a dark, dusty life beneath a bed somewhere, like all the rest of them.” I got the impression they thought their comedy duo act was coming along well.

Being the personality type I am, those comments actually motivated me. I took on a, “I’ll show them” attitude, which was a tad illogical, considering I’d probably never see them again! I was determined I’d use my exercise bike for 20 minutes every weekday. And I did, most days, for a couple of years.

But here’s the point. These tactless cashiers’ comments stayed with me as a metaphor. Clearly they’d seen the phenomenon they were describing as the norm: Where an enthusiastic purchase of exercise equipment eventually leads to its disuse and it ends up gathering dust.

So after that little experience, every time I’d see anyone—including myself—making a purchase that they were seeing would be, in and of itself, the solution to the problem at hand, I’d think back to these two budding comedians’ comments.

But when you think about them, as tactless as they were, there was a truth to their comments. Often we think that buying something—a piece of equipment, tool or technology—is the missing link, the solution.

This is often referred to as the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome: Where that new thing—that bright, shiny object—has an allure that draws you to it and actually distracts you from more important and strategic matters.

In business, the modern-day equivalent of the Bright Shiny Object is “the app”: The next piece of cloud-based software that will be the missing piece of the puzzle for your business’ efficiency and success.

It never is.

A software app is just a tool within a system, not a system by itself. (If you want a profound understanding of the true nature of systems, I highly recommend Thinking in Systems: A Primer by the late Donella Meadows. The model of stocks, flows, feedback loops, leverage points and the inherent behaviour of systems will forever change your understanding of how the world works.)

Until a software app—or any tool or piece of exercise equipment— is fully utilised, it’s just an expense. And the only way to fully utilise a tool is within the context of understanding how change occurs.

When you think about it, effecting change is why we invest in tools. I wanted to improve my fitness. We all want to improve our business’ efficiency, management clarity, and so on.

3 requirements for change

To achieve change, we need to create shifts in three things:

  1. Mindset
  2. Skills
  3. Systems

1. Mindset

The word ‘mindset’ might seem a little ‘woo woo’ to some, but by that I’m simply referring to what’s going on inside your head: Your values, your beliefs, your self-image, your perceptions. Much of this is often outside your conscious awareness, which is why people can struggle for years to achieve or improve something in their life—their health, their relationships, their financial position, their business—and are at a loss to explain their lack of results.

As they say, “The fish is the last to discover water.” They’re swimming in it every day, but they don’t see it. It’s the same with your mindset and beliefs. Some beliefs empower you, some limit you.

A person may have invested in all the exercise equipment under the sun, but until they shift:

  • their values about the importance of their health and well-being to themselves and those close to them
  • their beliefs around their ability to choose and create their own fitness level through their own actions and habits
  • their self-image as being a fit and healthy person rather than an out-of-shape struggler
  • their perception of exercise as being a fun, enjoyable and energy giving activity rather than an energy sapping chore to endure, then…

… their behaviours will never change and the equipment will remain under-utilised, gathering dust.

2. Skills

I’ve seen this a lot in businesses over the years: The owners of the business want to change certain behaviours of their staff—such as how they interact with customers or clients, or their ability to sell additional products or services—so they wheel in a trainer to “up skill” their staff in customer service or sales skills.

This is often futile, if they have not first addressed the mindset-related issues. You can provide many hours of the world’s best skills-based sales training to an accountant, for example, and train them in what to ask and say, when to say it, how to say it, their body language and a whole raft of behaviours and “techniques”, but if he or she has underlying beliefs such as:

  • “If a client wants any extra services from us, they’ll ask for it.” or
  • “I don’t sell anything to anyone” (which is code for, “selling is beneath me”)

… then no change in their behaviour will ever take place. Sure, they will sit through the training sessions and will politely nod at all the right times, but afterwards they’ll return to their desks and their daily behaviours will continue, unchanged.

3. Systems

Keeping in mind that technology such as software apps are only tools within the greater context of your processes and systems, it’s remarkable how much importance is placed on tools as being “the solution” to your business’ challenges.

And that’s what I call The Technology Paradox:

Businesses invest in technology such as software apps,

thinking that these tools will bring about change

and are, in and of themselves, the solution to their problems.

They therefore tend to look to technology FIRST,

when they should look to it LAST.

Just look at the apps you and your clients subscribe to that are not fully utilised. The technology and tools are great—and don’t misconstrue what I’m saying here to be anti-technology. I’m a massive propeller head with a passion for innovation and technology—but apps don’t create results, people do. If they did, we could all subscribe to a killer collection of apps and head off to the beach, letting the apps run our business.

In the brilliant book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution the authors refer to stroke-of-the-pen strategies. These are strategies you can execute just by ordering or authorising them to be done. Like signing up to a new app.

And when you purchase something that you think will create change—just as I was when lined up at the cash register with my exercise bike—you get that warm and fuzzy feeling, that sense of enthusiasm that what you’re purchasing will be the solution. That everything will start to improve from here.

But the act of purchasing changes nothing. You must be the change agent.

As a business owner and entrepreneur, one of your highest order skills is change management: The ability to bring about change in yourself and others.

By accepting The Technology Paradox and looking upstream first to mindset- and process-related aspects of your business, you’ll avoid over-investing or at least prematurely investing in tools and Bright Shiny Objects that might gather dust because you and your team are not ready to use them. Yet.

If you’d like to find out how we help your firm bring about change in your marketing mindset, skills and systems, get in touch for an initial chat with us. Your first step is to complete our READY? questionnaire to get your Digital Marketing Readiness Score out of 10, and then you can book a time for an initial chat with us here.