Engineering, Sarah

Don’t believe the hype


Many businesses will be using this time to review and adjust strategy and a significant part of this will be considering the adoption of new technologies as solutions to known issues.  When discussing digital transformation and the adoption of novel or emerging technologies, it is worth considering the Hype Cycle. The diagram was introduced in 1995 as a graphical representation of the typical progression of a technology from over-enthusiasm or inflated expectations, through a period of disillusionment then along to the plateau of productivity once equilibrium is reached.  The cycle provides a view of how a technology and its application will evolve over its life cycle which can in turn provide sound insight to manage its adoption and deployment within the context of specific business goals.  Classically it is used to assist companies to educate themselves on the promise of emerging technology within their operating context and their appetite for risk.  It helps to separate the hype from the real drivers of a technology’s commercial promise thereby reducing the risk of investments in the technology in question.  A company’s risk appetite will determine if they are willing to adopt novel technology early on in the products life, or if they would be better off waiting until others have realised value from the tech.

Gartner's Hype Cycle

Figure 1. Gartner’s Hype Cycle (Gartner, 2018)

The Hype Cycle identifies five key stages along a technology’s life cycle.  A technological breakthrough and the associated media interest are represented on the cycle as the initial innovation trigger.  Early media attention will surge as an increasing number of success stories are reported, a small but ever-increasing number of suppliers will sell the innovation, often funded by venture capital, and the price will remain high on the way towards a peak of inflated expectations.  At this peak there will be a marked increase in media attention, often a popular name will replace the initial engineering technology nomenclature and the number of suppliers will increase as early success stories are broadcast. These early successes will be accompanied by numerous failures as more companies, often with larger risk appetites, take up the technology and experiments and implementations of the unproven technology fail feeding an impatience for results in a period known as the trough of disillusionment. Nevertheless, with time there will be widespread understanding and proven examples of how this technology can benefit enterprises and second- and third-generation products will begin to appear, all contributing to climbing the slope of enlightenment.  Finally, a plateau of productivity is reached where mainstream adoption really starts to take off.  It is a blend of two curves – the left curve depicts social hype and the right, engineering capability.

Phases of the Hype Cycle

Figure 2. Phases of the Hype Cycle (Wikipedia, 2020)

Understanding an innovation and its related hype will allow an organisation to identify where on the hype cycle a technology is. If organisations can understand and forecast shifts in behaviour and market sentiment toward a technology that may represent a turning point in the cycle, then they can take advantage by being ahead of the crowd.  Financial investment strategies are described as aggressive, moderate or conservative. Likewise, company innovation adoption strategies can be aggressive, investing in innovations during the peak of inflated expectations, moderate, investing in the middle of the hype cycle, or conservative, only investing in proven technology once it has reached the plateau of productivity.  There are benefits to all positions but organisations should have some flexibility in their approach and be willing to selectively and aggressively move early on innovations with potentially large benefits to them, whilst also sitting back and letting others learn the hard lessons of innovations which may be of lesser benefit to their organisation and delay adoption until the innovation is more mature.  It will allow organisations to avoid investing in an innovation just because it is being hyped and conversely not ignore one because it is not living up to early over-expectations as it sits in the trough of disillusionment.

Simplifying matters even further, the hype cycle can be used to focus discussions around technology adoption by breaking it in to the two curves mentioned earlier.  By doing so there are two key questions that can be asked – which innovations are in the first half of the cycle that we could be using; and which innovations are in the second part of the cycle that we aren’t using and was there are deliberate choice?

Key Hype Cycle Questions

Figure 3.  Key Hype Cycle Questions (Gartner, 2018)

There are numerous factors to consider when adopting innovative technology and no one solution, adoption model or evaluation model will suit every organisation.  I see much benefit in considering the Hype Cycle during a technology adoption process for its simplicity and ability to prompt questions as well as the parallels it draws to change management models such as Kotter’s 8 Steps.  I dare say the Hype Cycle could also be of use in other areas of your life, drawing parallels to the path of interpersonal relationships and, as pointed out by a reddit user, even our time in isolation.

Hype Cycle for Emerging Quarantines

Figure 4. Hype Cycle for Emerging Quarantines (evabeylin, 2020)



evabeylin, 2020. reddit. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 29 April 2020].

Fenn, J. & Blosch, M., 2018. Understanding Gartner’s Hype Cycle. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 28 April 2020].

Gartner, 2018. 5 Trends Emerge in the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2018. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 30 January 2019].

Wikipedia, 2020. Hype Cycle. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 1 May 2020].


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