Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and Bad Product Decisions (Part 1)

Part 1 – What is FOMO?

Selfie PortraitFOMO – or the fear of missing out – as most people understand it today came about due to the rise of social media, where people would post these gorgeous travel destinations and experiences. These postings would arouse pangs of yearning from people on how life could be beautiful if they only were in those places or festivals. Nowadays, you see the same selfie shot done by everyone, of locales now overrun with the rise of tourists, all to get that FOMO-worthy shot.

FOMO, however, is not just a spawn of the viral rise of social media. It’s been here, all along in Silicon Valley, but it only manifests itself a little differently.

I recently had a conversation with an engineering executive at a well-established software firm that went this way. I had told him, after looking at all the project data, that there were too many projects in play.  We needed to start saying no to some of the items coming down the pipeline or postponing a few of the projects currently in development. We had to deliver something small before we could take on more projects. We had too many projects going, not enough people, resulting in not getting anything done on time.

The engineering executive was adamant. “We can’t do that,” he said. “We’re going to be left out and need to have all of these projects staffed and moving.”

There you go – he said it – FOMO – fear of missing out.

I’ve encountered a lot of FOMO in various forms working with different organizations. This fear – that the company will somehow miss something – is intense, especially with executives. It’s even more pervasive at startups, where they are madly trying to grab as much mindshare from the bleeding-edge early adopters who can make or break their startup, before other companies move in on their turf.

Here are other examples of FOMO:

“Oh no – our competitor just announced this new feature! Quick – we need to make a similar announcement, and get our engineers to start working on something right away.”

“Apple just announced they’re rolling out this new feature on the iPhone. It looks so cool! Let’s get a team to start work on it pronto, so we beat our competitors.”

Maybe you’ve heard something similar?

So how does one deal with this irrational FOMO? How can one help executives and managers make better decisions?

In my subsequent newsletters on this series about FOMO, I will go over what drives some of these decisions, and go through a few options that allow one to make better decisions.