The Circle of Hype - Future Week


By Anna Swann-Pye

Larry Johnson explains the Hype Cycle. Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan.

It’s not easy to know whether or not the hype will pay off. New technology is constantly emerging and with it inevitably comes a lot of talk. It’s hard to discern, though, whether or not that talk will correlate with any real commercial viability. This is Gartner’s job.

Gartner, Inc. is an information technology research and advisory company that delivers insight and advice around the world. Every year, Gartner, Inc. comes out with 90-100 Hype Cycles, each of which has been thoughtfully crafted to provide a relatively reliable view of how a technology will evolve over time. Gartner then markets these Hype Cycles to clients, who use the information to make decisions about the impact and value of technological trends.

But what is a Hype Cycle? For those of us who are not 100 percent savvy when it comes to the ebb and flow of the technology marketplace, Gartner has divided the Hype Cycle into a few easy phases. Each new technological innovation begins with The Technology Trigger. This is the breakthrough that kicks the cycle off. Media sources start to talk about new and upcoming trends and the hype is relatively large. In this stage, Gartner says, it is often the case that the product has yet to even exist.

At this point, we reach the Peak of Inflated Expectations stage. This is the moment at which the given technological trend really hits the media – the trend receives a number of good reviews, as well as some bad ones. Sometimes companies will realign the new technology in accordance with the information they obtain, but often they’ll do nothing.

Which, then, leads us to the Trough of Disillusionment – essentially, the moment when the bad begins to outweigh the good. Interest wains as the given device fails to deliver on the inflated expectations. At this point, the company must decide whether or not they are going to put the work in that is necessary to make the product live up to it’s original peak of hype.

From the depths of the Trough of Disillusionment, we emerge into the Slope of Enlightenment. As the technology becomes more widely understood and corrections are made, people begin to recognize the benefits and are willing to invest again.

Finally, we settle into the Plateau of Productivity where the product is adapted and adopted by mainstream buyers as the market broadens and the technology becomes clearly and obviously relevant.

The graph, then, looks something like this:

And what sort of stuff does Gartner track? Big innovations that are being followed currently include mobile technology, cloud computing, information technologies and social media. Gartner refers to these developments as the nexus technologies, and they appear across many of the Hype Cycles.

Of course, there are a number of criticisms of the Hype Cycle model. Richard Veryard, for example, believes that the system is too perfect. “All technologies appear to have the same eventual outcome,” he writes. Later he explains something about the lack of curve alteration over time: “The shape of the line has not altered (or accelerated) in ten years, but all evidence points to a shifting (shrinking) curve. For one thing, technology studies suggest that the half-life of new technologies is getting shorter. Furthermore, we might expect the quantity of attention received by each technology to be affected by the number of technologies competing for attention.”

Critics also suggest that the Gartner Hype Cycle preaches “irrational optimism,” or rather, that the cycle insists that, no matter how bizarre the innovation is, or how unachievable your goals, after the trend fails to live up to the hype, it will live up to the hype.

Still, Gartner Hype Cycle specialists seem to believe in the way they’ve documented trends. Gartner’s Vice President, Jackie Fenn, suggests that if clients use the Hype Cycles correctly, they can work to anyone’s advantage: “You can look at the set of technologies that are there,” she says, “in terms of what’s new that I should be paying attention to, and then what is there that I am aware of, that may be moving along in its maturity and am I making the right investment decisions based on the current level of risk.”

Jackie Fenn also encourages clients to remain aware. That is, just because a technology is at one stage in the Hype Cycle, doesn’t mean you should act in a specifically designated way. “We recommend using the Hype Cycles to think about the challenges of when to adopt,” she says,  “So being aware, at that peak of expectations, that it may or may not be the right time. Not abandoning things at the trough if you decide to take a look at something that really is meaningful, and then overtime reexamining things to try and get a jump.”

Basically, the Hype Cycle cannot replace a human brain – it is meant to assist but not to act as a be-all-end-all. But, if it is used with some caution, the Gartner Hype Cycle can be a good guiding system for anyone looking to invest in or learn about today’s technological trends.