Several years ago, I was growing frustrated with the number of “innovation” projects I was seeing that generated a lot of initial activity but that ended up going nowhere in the end. In a moment of curmudgeonly disgust, I described these go-nowhere projects to a client as “snow globes”, because they looked pretty and shiny, and you could shake them up and see a lot of activity, but as we both knew, they were never going to get any bigger than what you could hold in your hand today. The client laughed at the term, and then retold the story enough that it stuck within their team, and ours. I don’t think I borrowed it from someone else as it was just something that popped into my head because I was staring at snow globe on the desk of the client’s assistant when I said it, so I guess I can claim this as an original Joe-ism. (but feel free to correct me if someone else thought of it before and you can point me to it).
Snow globe projects may sound like the storyline of a Dilbert cartoon, but they are all too common in biopharma companies these days. Often, they pop up because someone is chasing a new technology without a plan for how they will really use it (a crush on the latest shiny thing) or because some senior manager heard about something and tasked their team with looking into it without providing any real direction (agencies make thousands of calls to suppliers every year that clearly expose the lack of guidance the junior snow globe maker on the phone has been given). We see one or two snow globes every year that get thrown together because something seemed like a good idea back in January, ended up on someone’s annual objectives, and then everyone forgot about it until about the end of Q3, when putting together something that just checks the box is easier than getting everyone to align on the fact that the idea is no longer useful. Lots of activity that will go nowhere in the end.
Snow globes give people a feeling of false accomplishment because they generate lots of activity. But because they don’t really accomplish anything useful, and never will, they’re just a waste of time and money. Worse still, the truly talented people working on these projects – both within the client and within their suppliers – will eventually find other, more rewarding ways to occupy their time. The long-term effect of that on a company – and maybe several companies, if you count suppliers and agencies – is that the best and brightest exit the team, leaving only those who are willing to engage in mindless activity to carry out – or even lead the company – into the future. Assuming that you don’t want that for yourself, think about whether your next “innovation” project is part of a larger, coherent plan – or just a soul-sucking little snow globe.