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.
What’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…