How To Use The Gartner Hype Cycle Technology Adoption Curve


Welcome once again to Viral Octopus Magazine’s Knowledge series. This week, we are talking about tech adoption insights. Research and advisory company Gartner’s Jackie Fenn put quite a feather in their cap back in 1995 when he came up with a general hypothesis about the typical technology adoption curve that came to be called the Gartner Hype Cycle. While the hypothesis might not describe the path of every technology, it often seems to fit. Let’s jump into the details and see how you can apply the theory.   

The Gartner Hype Cycle Technology Adoption Curve

What does Gartner’s hype cycle predict? In a nutshell, most new technologies will be met with what you could call premature enthusiasm. This will be followed by disillusionment. People will be disappointed that their unrealistic expectations were not met. Then there will be a gradual recovery and progress towards a much more satisfying engagement with the technology. When we are aware of the hype cycle, we can avoid going along with the crowd. We will wisely temper our excitement about something new and, having no false expectations, we won’t under-estimate the value of something at the point where other people are reeling with disillusion.    

A Five-Stage Process of Technology Adoption

We can consider the hype cycle as a five-stage process. The progress of adoption can be represented as a curve where the y axis is expectations and the x-axis is time.  The five stages are: the innovation trigger, the meteoric irrational rise to the peak of inflated expectation, the precipitous drop into the trough of disillusionment, the gradual slope of enlightenment, and finally the stable plateau of productivity.  The innovation trigger stage has a rather misleading name. Fenn’s original theory called this step the technology trigger. But the trigger is not a need that inspires innovation; the trigger refers to the first public demonstration or publicizing of a new idea. The hype cycle begins when the new idea arrives.  We swiftly proceed from first notice to the peak of inflated expectations. Details may be scarce. It is difficult at this stage to present rigorous analysis, but it is easy to create excitement, and excitement entertains and engages readers, so the trend in coverage is often quite enthusiastic. This can cause bubbles, as we saw with early web companies.  The trough of disillusionment waits just behind the peak expectations. Development of a full-featured product often takes longer than expected. Limitations and caveats that were not noticed at first become apparent. Expectations are not met, fortunes can be lost, and disappointment and abandonment of the technology is widespread.  But some early adopters press on, climbing the slope of enlightenment. They discover problems with the product and the owners work to resolve the issues. The adopters refine their understanding of potential use cases and strengths and weaknesses of the product, and gradually more people start to join them. Finally, society reaches the plateau of productivity. When people finally understand what the technology can and can’t do, the right group of users engages and interest is optimized and levels off at an appropriate degree where no one is disappointed.   

How To Use The Hype Cycle Theory

When we are aware of the hype cycle, we can adjust our reaction to technologies to avoid being swept up in the typical irrational momentum and over-reaction described by the curve. We can soberly assess the technology on its merits, aware that we are experiencing a barrage of emotional, irrational, or manipulative hype at any given stage of the curve. We don’t grab onto every passing fad without taking a careful look to assess the true potential of something new. We don’t overlook something that has fallen out of favor only because people misunderstood its value.  

Traps To Avoid: Four Hype Cycle Don’ts

We can identify four traps to avoid and place them on the curve. In the trigger stage, take time to make a good assessment and wait for more information if necessary. Don’t adopt too early. When the trough of disillusionment hits, don’t over-react if you have invested resources already. Don’t give up too soon. If you are not already involved, the trough of disillusionment can be a great time to jump in when the product owners are courting early adopters. So don’t wait until too late. Get in as soon as your research confirms a fit. Eventually, you may find another product that is a better fit for you, so always remember you can cut your losses. Don’t fall for the sunk costs fallacy. Gartner places this in the plateau of productivity, but really it could happen anywhere on the curve. Don’t hang on too long. 

Check The Next Article In This Series For Gartner’s Top Tech Trends for 2021

What is the “internet of behaviors”? What does Gartner mean when they talk about “total experience” as a top technological trend? We will talk about these two innovative concepts and seven other new trends to consider in 2021 in our next article in this series.  

These Tips Only Work If You Act On Them

You can dig much deeper into the hype cycle concept, but the basic idea on its own is easy to grasp and very useful.  In a recent paper on the subject, Gartner sums it up like this:  “Avoid investing in an innovation just because it is being hyped. And do not ignore it just because it is not living up to early over-expectations.” Words of wisdom indeed! Apply them. 

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