While listening to a presentation by Gartner Inc. recently, I learned about the Gartner Hype Cycle. Gartner consults in the field of information technology, and they developed the hype cycle in the 1990s as a way to visualise the phases the media go through when reporting on a new technology. Gartner claims that, in 1999, they used this tool to predict the Internet bubble of 2000.
According to the Gartner model, media coverage of a new technology goes through five distinct phases:
- Trigger. The new technology is presented to the world, for example as a scientific discovery or a product launch.
- Inflated Expectations. In the second phase, a large amount of publicity generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations.
- Disillusionment. Technologies fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, press coverage diminishes rapidly.
- Enlightenment. A small number of businesses or universities develop an understanding of how the technology can be used appropriately.
- Productivity. The technology becomes stable and evolves into second and third generations. It is applied where appropriate and does a useful job.
I immediately realised that this model can also be applied to the way new innovation methods are treated in the media and that it illustrated a thought that I have had for some time. However, I also recognised that the diagram in the form proposed by Gartner was insufficient to represent what I wanted to say.
The Gartner cycle is drawn in the space-time plane: the horizontal axis represents time and the vertical axis represents the level of hype about a technology (see here and here for some examples.) This representation only allows one relationship to be mapped: the one between hype and time. However, I also wanted to display the adoption of the technology / method, something which is only contained implicitly in Gartner’s model. I therefore switched to a phase space representation, with Level of Adoption on the horizontal axis and Level of Hype on the vertical axis. This allows me to display the behaviour of both over time. The result is shown in the following diagram:
Here, we can still see Gartner’s five phases, as changes in the vertical coordinate of the curve. We begin at the lower left with the Trigger, where there is no hype yet, advance along the curve where we see hype sharply increasing and then decreasing, and end up at Productivity, where the hype has converged to a level that is appropriate. At the same time, we can follow the horizontal development of the curve, where we see zero adoption at the Trigger, followed by an increase in adoption as a consequence of the hype, where many companies adopt the method, even though it is not appropriate to their needs. This is followed by a decrease in adoption as reports about the failure of the method to live up to its expectations become available. Ultimately, at the Productivity stage, the adoption converges to a level at which the method is being used by those companies for whom it is an appropriate tool.
In the title diagram, I have included a number of popular innovation methodologies, placing them where I currently see them in the „innovation“ hype cycle.
- Stage Gate Process. The Stage Gate Process is now well established and used by many companies as a standardised framework for their innovation process. Although the stage gate process ia still being developed, most companies have found a form which suits their needs and are applying it as a productive tool.
- Lead Users. The hype about the Lead User method seems to have died down now, as companies try to figure out when the method is appropriate to them and how best to apply it.
- Disruptive Innovation. Hype on disprutive innovation was still very intense last year, but seems to be yielding to newer topics as companies realise that disruptive innovation only describes one very specific type of innovation and is not the magic bullet that it once seemed to be.
- Crowdsourcing Ideas. Commonly (but incorrectly) referred to as „Open Innovation“, Crowdsourcing Ideas was the „big thing“ in 2009 and the first part of 2010. Internet platforms for crowdsourcing ideas sprung up all over the internet and companies from BMW („Virtual Innovation Agency„) to Starbucks („My Starbucks Idea„) started portals where members of the public can submit their ideas. While this is clearly not a viable approach in most cases, the hype about this topic is still very strong, and we have yet to see the first (public) reports on the limitations of this approach.
- Design Thinking. This seems to be the current „Big Thing“ in innovation; it gets most column inches in the various innovation blogs and discussion forums. It is still unclear (at least to me), how useful this concept is for innovation as a whole and therefore how dramatic the disappointment will be when it comes.
One nice thing about the phase space representation of the hype cycle is that it allows different variants of the cycle to be plotted. In the diagram below we see
- the Canonical Form (blue), which corresponds to the phases already described,
- the Flash in the Pan (red), which drops back to zero quickly as people realise that they have been fooled into following a valueless management fad.
- the Quiet Revolution (green), where a new concept or method remains below the hype radar and slowly gains in popularity and coverage as word of its usefulness spreads.
Some assorted observations on the innovation hype cycle:
- I think that Crowdsourcing Ideas is actually on the Flash-in-the-Pan curve, since I do not believe that it has any substantial value for innovation.
- You can recognise when a concept has entered the Disappointment phase when you start to see blog articles titled „What is wrong with Crowdsourcing?“, „Beyond Crowdsourcing“, „Crowdsourcing 2.0“ and so on.
- I have no idea what method or technique will be the next to become visible on the innovation hype cycle.
- I would place Blue Ocean Strategy in roughly the same location as Disruptive Innovation in the cycle.