There are few things in the tech industry these days as pervasive as the Gartner Hype Cycle. And I’m done with it.

Why? Why done with something that through its commercial success and ubiquity has obviously proved its utility? Because I think it perpetuates the “sudden invention” myth that stymies so many people from thinking that they can innovate.

1024px-View-Master_Model_EWhat’s the “sudden invention” myth? Its the left hand side of the hype cycle that shows some new technological innovation suddenly, exponentially bursting onto the scene and rapidly becoming (over-)hyped. Innovation isn’t like that. Sure, it’s often exponential at that stage, but what the hype cycle ignores is the long tail leading up to the explosive phase. The bit that takes decades. Centuries, even.
Take, for example, the emergence of virtual reality through headsets like Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard. The technology makes these an affordable, consumer technology. But to imagine that this is a technology that has appeared all of a sudden ignores history; there have been consumer-focused VR headsets since the 1980s and the idea of stereoscopic imagery viewed through a headset is something that goes back to almost the beginning of the history of photography. Alongside the emergence of greater and greater processing power, LED displays… the idea of a single “technology trigger” is fatuous.

This “sudden invention” myth, reinforced by tools like the Hype Cycle, stops people and organisations from thinking that they can innovate. But innovation is a process of addition and subtraction, not genius genesis, the subject of a series of coincidental triggers, not a technology trigger in the singular. And it’s something of which we should all be given the reassurance that we are capable.

Here’s me wittering on about additive and subtractive innovation a few years back…

9 thoughts on “I’m done with the Hype Cycle

  1. Hi Matt,
    You make it sound like this is a one-sided process. Where ‘the invention’ (whether it took a day or a century to make it) is ‘let free’ on the world. Well, according to me this is always what is called a ‘two-sided market’. Some (actually most) inventions just are not ripe to be accepted by the crowd at a certain point in time. That is exactly why many entrepreneurs are often ‘too late’ or ‘too early’ with their ‘idea’. Both are bound to fail. Timing is of the essence and to see this clearly one needs to look exactly at the other side of the invention, which is the acceptance power. The Germans have a unique wording for it: Zeitgeist.

  2. OMG Matt shot the holy cow. Actually I keep meaning to write some code that analyses the spam in my mailbox and uses it to plot the hype cycle for various ‘inventions’. Then I will put Gartner out of business after I have consulted with Luc as to whether the world is ready for this.

  3. ‘…the idea of a single “technology trigger” is fatuous’

    Indeed, but the need for one single factor that explains something is so deeply ingrained in humanity that it could serve as the ultimate Turing Test. Whether it’s technology, science, history, politics, economics, etc. the need to find “the one lever” that drives it all seems irresistible.

    1. Not sure that I think the underlying processes are particularly broken. It’s mostly that the representation of innovation as being a sudden, rather than very long term, thing discourages many from thinking that they can be a part of it.

      1. Agreed. What I’m stating is that the reports of these types of firms create that perception with the reports that they create. Unless defunded somehow, the paradigm you are speaking of is self-reinforcing.

        When I worked at BlackRock during the 80 to 800 person growth phase, there were thousands of tiny process improvements that were never made public that drove our unique innovation. We never bought reports like this or chased buzzwords like so many people do today. There are better approaches!

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