In collective folklore, the magpie is accused of being attracted to shiny objects, going so far as to steal them. But the magpie is not the only one to be inexorably attracted to shiny objects; human beings also suffer from this fatal attraction. One possible explanation could be sought in the ancestral need to have water available, which would have created this routine of positive association between what glows and the bodies of water necessary for the maintenance of life. The metaphor of the shiny object is therefore used to indicate the attraction that we may unconsciously feel for everything that is or seems new, to the detriment of what in our eyes is old, already (even if illusorily) known, tried, used and that we are ready to abandon for something more shiny, more attractive. This bias is called ‘shiny object bias‘. The bias, as with the others we have seen so far, operates at both the individual and collective level. A complementary explanation for this bias is the so-called ‘memory effect‘, which directs our interest towards what is more recent and can be more easily recalled in memory, combined with a tendency to prefer immediate rather than future rewards. Our survival has also been ensured by our ability to seek out gratification and novelty. Our brain operates on two circuits, one emotional and one rational. With respect to the more ’emotional’ system, recent studies show that the ventral striatum plays a central role, in connection with the limbic system, the amygdala, and the hippocampus. Reward activates this system first. The automatic response makes the new object, the new project, the new product, the new subject to be studied, attract our attention, in search of immediate gratification, even if irrational. It is the kind of response that, among others, Dan Ariely and his research group have studied, which generates irrational preferences, such as “better 20 euros now than 25 in a week”, “better half a bar of chocolate now than a whole bar tomorrow”. But also, “it is better to spend half an hour on social networks than to finish the project that has been going on for a month”, “it is better to start a new relationship than to solve the problems of the old one”, “it is better to have a new job than to deepen the current one” etc. at an individual level. And which, on a collective level, pushes people to quickly abandon markets that have not yet been fully explored, products, project groups, organisational theories, paths of organisational development, even, paradoxically, when they work very well, out of the sheer need to move towards more shiny objects. The shiny object also works for political systems and is especially used during election campaigns to distract voters from critical issues that might put candidates in a bad light.

In organisational cultures that are “victims” of the shiny object bias, innovation risks becoming ideological, unrelated to purpose, without a real strategic and long-term perspective.

The shiny object does not make us run towards deep innovation, but becomes, when we are caught in the trap of the new at all costs, an automatic response to an internal need, generating short-term rewards.

Dan Ariely shows how, when we manage to be aware and also activate the long-term decision-making system, the prefrontal cortex, and defer the reward, we gain more freedom of decision and manage to give perspective to our actions by managing to open up a space in the present of projection of the decision that allows us to wait for the future reward.

So what can we do to avoid falling victim to the shiny object bias?


At the level of the individual, the group, the collective and the political system, one way out of our mental models is to think of our decision-making processes as ecosystemic processes.  Otto Scharmer’s U-theory, for example, invites us to a deep exploration, to get out of the “downloading” of reality that locks us into past and automatic responses. In the case of the shiny object, paradoxically, going towards the new one actually remains within a stimulus-response scheme, within processes of procrastination, within the universe of the Social Network which risks, by constantly offering us new shiny objects, guiding our attention and taking away part of our free will. The sensing process of U-theory instead invites us to become aware of the patterns that guide behaviour, to explore alternatives, to free ourselves from defences and fear of exploring our individual and collective purpose and to connect with our deepest intention. It is through this connection though that the innovation process becomes ecosystemic, truly disruptive and in line with the needs of the context.

So where does Regeneration fit in with all this? Well, Regeneration includes/involves innovation, but is not making it its Purpose, in the kind of dogmatic way that “shiny object” cultures have tended to do over the last couple of decades. Rather, Regeneration is a going back to our deepest roots, to our primary Intention – seeking direction from it. Innovation becomes a means to an end: a new way of expressing that primary Purpose, better adapted to the way the world has evolved.

With a bit of a stretch, we could even say that Regeneration is not about seeking the shiny object out there – it is about birthing that pearl within us.