The technology research firm, Gartner, has a methodology for analyzing the practical applications and adoption rate of new and emerging technologies.
This “hype cycle”, below, was coined in 1995 and is based in part on the work of economist Carlota Perez. The hype cycle has been used to illustrate the initial over enthusiasm and subsequent disappointment that typically occurs along with a new technology.
Gartner itself provides the following guidance on the use and understanding of the hype cycle:
1. “Technology Trigger”
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.
2. “Peak of Inflated Expectations”
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.
3. “Trough of Disillusionment”
Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
4. “Slope of Enlightenment”
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
5. “Plateau of Productivity”
A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.
I was first introduced to the hype cycle when working with Gartner on various technology clients while at GolinHarris in London. To be honest, I kind of forgot about it before being reminded of it last week. Hence this blog post.
For me, it provides an excellent way to demonstrate the valuable role an external consultant can play when advising on new technologies, as well as provide a cautionary tale of when consultants get a little…over zealous about certain technologies.
Always be one step ahead
Let’s take a technology that everyone is talking about: Twitter. Twitter is definitely a technology that is on the upward slope and nearing the “peak of inflated expectations”. Many consumers and clients are just being introduced to it’s time sapping tendencies and are justifiably looking to exploit the large and growing user group. If you are an online communications consultant, you should already be ahead of the curve – but how much? The diagram below shows my perception but, like all the diagrams, isn’t based on any empirical evidence or quantitative data. That many consultants are ahead of the curve and will start their journey down into the trough of disillusionment. However, consultants who look to add value will already be deep in that trough and looking to temper their clients’ enthusiasm with a critical and analytical eye:
The whole Web 2.0 movement is very similar. While the shine is coming off Web 2.0 for many clients, who are, frankly, kind of sick about hearing about it as the answer to all their ills, value added consultants are already thinking of ways to properly integrate social systems and technologies into existing marketing strategies.
For me, for all the talk about blogging having died, blogging is one of the few technologies to have come down into the trough of disillusionment (many technologies do not have a full life/hype cycle) and is making its way up the slope of enlightenment, into the plateau of productivity. However, many consultants are stuck in the trough of disillusionment and are moving onto other, sexier, technologies – see above: Twitter.
A cautionary tale
For me, the problem with so many new technologies, comes when consultants are a certain distance ahead of their clients when it comes to making recommendations. Take Second Life which was always going to be a niche within the social media/technologies movement. Some people heard about it, tried it, loved it and wouldn’t stop pushing it on anyone who would listen. I remember breathless podcasts and deeply impassioned blog posts about how Second Life and virtual worlds would change communication forever. Then, when some clients started to hear about it, when they received their technology trigger, their consultants were right at the apex of the peak of inflated expectations. And that is when you see organizations spend, and waste, a huge amount of dollars to experiment, and fail, in the space.
While excitement over Second Life and other virtual worlds may, in the end be justified, in this case it was a case of too much too soon from over eager Web 2.0 consultants and talking heads.
The key takeaway is that, as an external or internal consultant, you should always position yourself on the slope of enlightenment, but to realise where your client is at on the hype cycle and use that information to add value to the process. If they are at the peak of inflated expectations, balance that off by being between the trough of disillusionment and the slope of enlightenment. If they are in the trough of disillusionment, be nearing the plateau of productivity – providing the technology actually has a full life cycle. There may be a reason why your clients are in the trough!
Finally, when it comes to evaluating new or emerging technologies, always use the approach recommended by Forrester, another competing technology research company:
I am not even close to being proficient with PhotoShop so I had to create these images using PowerPoint. You can view the slides on my new SlideShare account.
Just to reiterate, these graphs and the positions I’ve plotted on them are not based on any sort of data. I have literally pulled the positions out of thin air (you may think somewhere else) based on my own perspective.
Disagree? Please tell me why in the comments!