Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time

by Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino   


As futurists we are confronted all the time by what I would call techno-optimism. When working on biofuels strategy for the grains industry it was apparent that futurists had been saying every year for the last 25 years that cellulosic (biomass) ethanol would be commercially viable in five years time. Following a recent keynote conference presentation where I talked about the coming wave of genetically targeted medicine I was approached afterwards by a gentleman suffering from the early stages of Huntington’s disease who had a similar story to tell – of promises of advances only five years away and he commented that five years seemed to be a common thread. This reminded me that when talking about the future we have a duty not only to be responsible from a commercial point of view but also because of the affects it can have on people’s lives, hopes and dreams.
Now I would be the last person to suggest that we are ever going to get those things right every time but this book provides a useful framework for looking at the issues of the development and adoption of new technologies and then looks at that framework from different perspectives depending on whether you are an early adopter, a fast follower, a conservative organisation, etc.

Written by two Gartner fellows and Gartner Research, the basic cycle is shown in the figure for various technologies.


The central message is that most new products/technologies go through a cycle where they are:

  • Hyped in the media with lots of positive stories
  • Reach a peak
  • Trashed in the media as they fail to fulfill overblown expectations
  • Sometimes come out of the resultant trough where they are adapted and become mainstream and then enter a plateau where they are standard business practice

There are a number of traps in the cycle:

  • Adopting too early
  • Giving up too soon after you have tried a new technology and wasting your investment
  • Adopting too late and ceding advantage to your competitors
  • Hanging on too long and sending good money after bad

Understanding the cycle and how it works and applying it judiciously in your thinking (remembering that all these models are just frameworks for thinking and should not be applied blindly) can help you avoid these traps and gain competitive advantage.

The book is well written and gives good practical examples. I would recommend it to anybody that is involved in innovation or the adoption of new technologies into their organisation.