Simon Clayton, chief ideas officer at RefTech on understanding the hype cycle to help you decide if, or when to adopt a technology.
I’ve often written about the hype surrounding new tech products and our industry’s insistence on announcing them with fanfares and declarations that they’re life changing. This insistence in promoting untried tech can be confusing and organisers often say that choosing the right tech is the most confusing part of their role.
Anyone in this bewildering position may find it useful to consider this: all new technology goes through a ‘hype cycle’ – five key phases of a technology’s lifecycle. Understanding the hype cycle will help you decide if, or when to adopt a technology.
Broadly, it looks like this:
Technology Trigger: a technological breakthrough provides the catalyst that results in a new product. The possibilities seem endless, and excited press reports hype the potential. The physical product may not exist at this point, but even if it does, there are no case studies to show it in use or to prove its benefits.
Peak of Inflated Expectations: there may be a few positive case studies by now, accompanied by a flurry of wildly unsubstantiated press releases claiming that the technology is going to change everybody’s lives. What this actually means is that a few companies may have tried the technology, but it’s likely to be as a contra deal: “you can use our tech for free but only if you tell the world how brilliant it is”. There will also be some cases of the product being tried and failing – as people and their companies cut through the marketing promises and discover first hand what the product can and can’t do.
Trough of Disillusionment: interest starts to falls off – the trials have been done and many of the benefits that were originally claimed are proven to be wrong. Many tech providers walk away at this point and investment only continues if the surviving suppliers fine tune and hone their products to focus on real benefits.
Slope of Enlightenment: this is the slow but interesting part. More benefits come to light and the remaining tech providers start to create second and third generation versions – focusing on what works and what people want. A few light bulbs click on as people start to really understand the product’s potential.
Plateau of Productivity: The product hits the big time as mainstream adoption happens. Companies know what the product can do and understand its benefits. The marketing becomes more relevant to the right audience.
iBeacons were launched with a fanfare, but are currently lurking in the ‘trough of disillusionment’. I do think there is a use for them in our industry and over time I think they will move on to the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’.
Even the lofty iPhone followed this cycle. When it was launched it was only adopted by the die hard fan-boys, and became obsolete within a year. The iPhone 2 came next (the second generation product – as mentioned in the ‘slope of enlightenment’) and was launched at roughly the same time as the App Store which introduced the marvellous concept of adding personalised software to your phone (AKA a mobile handheld computer). These wonderful little apps heralded a new phase in mobile tech; without apps, Apple wouldn’t have the hold it has today – but they were a refinement rather than a founding principle of the iPhone.
But for every success story, there are at least a dozen gadgets that have failed to deliver on their promises and most organisers are cautious – they simply don’t have the death wish to be early adopters. My advice is to remain cautious, follow the cycle and look out for that ‘Slope of Enlightenment’. If there are too many unproven claims surrounding the real benefits of an emerging technology, it may be better to wait until others have been able to prove a technology’s worth before investing your company’s event budget.