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Do You Suffer From SQS (Squirrel Chasing Syndrome)?

One of the challenges modern businesses face is the flood of information that is streaming at them on a daily basis. That wave of data contains a wealth of good ideas. And some of those ideas are things that the competition is doing.

The problem is that many people, predominantly managers, suffer from SCS, better known as “squirrel chasing syndrome”. When they are in the middle of something, the moment an interesting alternative flashes by, they drop what they are doing, and chase after that elusive idea. For dogs, the “can’t resist” alternative is often a furry little creature. For business people, the irresistible item is commonly something that a competitor is doing.

The problem, though, is the competitor, most likely, executed the idea as part of a comprehensive plan. If a company drops what it is doing, it wastes resources and ultimately ends up further behind.

That’s not to say that you should not try to capitalize on opportunities, but you should show some restraint. Check the proposed activity against your policy deployment. Decide which current project should be dropped to make room to chase this new squirrel. Figure out the cost-benefit of this new idea before jumping into it. When you slow down for a second, sometimes the squirrel doesn’t look so appealing.

The point is that dogs chase squirrels out of instinct. It takes every bit of their will and training to exercise restraint. Companies, on the other hand, do that as learned behavior. Unlike the dog, though, where the behavior is one of survival, for companies it is a bad habit.

In addition to the wasted resources, SCS is demoralizing to teams. They feel like they are being yanked around chasing squirrels. One of the benefits of being Lean is that there is structure to the operation. When a “squirrel” shows up, the organization doesn’t just drop everything and run after it. The business systems keep the team from getting sidetracked by distractions. Ironically though, those same systems will support change well when the idea is properly planned.

One problem about SCS, though. Most managers who are afflicted with it don’t realize it. A dog doesn’t see it as a problem to go tearing off after a furry little rodent. Likewise, a manager who leads his team willy nilly probably doesn’t see it as an issue, or he would not do it. If you suspect you suffer from this costly disease, don’t worry. Your team already has you diagnosed. 


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