The Hype Cycle

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth uses Gartner’s Hype Cycle to explain how ideas get started and spread.

The Normal Distribution is a powerful concept. Many things we encounter in life can be explained or even predicted with the help of the normal distribution curve.

In the normal distribution, the early adopters make up 5 to 10% of the population. There are another 5 to 10% of the population that are the late adapters. The rest of 80% in the center want what other people want. The masses in the center wait until the idea, music, or technology is proven, accepted, in use, and then they jump on.

The early adopters want something new. They like the promise and the potential value the promise might bring. The late adapters want things to stay the same for as long as possible, and they would change mind only if they have no other viable options. The masses are not bothering to stay on the cutting edge, and they only want something that works.

The Gartner Hype Cycle can give us illustrative examples of how technologies move from the early stage to the subsequent phases. It begins with the “Technology Trigger” where something was invented or became possible. The media loves technology triggers because they provide something that we can talk about.

The second stage of the hype cycle is the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” On the way to the peak, we have something new to discuss. We talk about the new phenomenon with others and can even speculate about it.

But we have seen this type of interaction before, and we understand that the next stage is usually a slide, almost always into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” If we bought into the idea previously, this is usually where we experienced the disappointment. But if we are clever enough to start getting involved in the trough, there is an excellent chance that when the next part of the cycle kicks in, we will be in the right place at the right time.

During the “Slope of Enlightenment” phase, the media goes away because the media has a short attention span. In this phase, the people who are serious about the product, the service, and the change they seek to make, they stick with it. Those people, who are committed to the idea, are working hard to make the idea a working reality.

The last phase is the “Plateau of Productivity.” The plateau of productivity is when people stop talking about the idea as something brand new and simply use it.

Between the “Trough of Disillusionment” and the “Plateau of Productivity,” this is where the dip comes into play. It is in this dip where most people quit. Most people quit in the trough either because they do not have the resource in the bank or in their heart to keep going. The important thing is to be mentally ready for the dip before we undertake the effort to move through the hype cycle. If we know the dip is going to be there and is part of the cycle, we can plan for the resources that can help us stick with it to get to the other side.

We need to realize the idea or technology adoption is rarely a leveled straight line. The hype cycle points out that there is a peak of hype followed by a trough. The trough is part of the deal before we can move up again towards the slope and finally the plateau. When we seek to change the culture for the better, we need not be obsessed about the hype because more hype will not make the idea more likely to get through the trough.

“What we need if we’re going to bring an innovation forward is the wherewithal, the reserves, the belief to stick with it long enough to get up the slope of enlightenment.”