At Gartner, we have started working on our 2017 Hype Cycle work in anticipation of publishing results early in the third quarter. Recently, I found research we published in 10 June 1994 on the subject of Hype, well before we started to create “hype cycles.”
While brief, we recommend this research as you contemplate the level of hype visible in the market 23 years later (it hasn’t gone down, folks!) This note’s insights into the value of hype and how to exploit it are equally valid (if not more so) today, in 2017.
This Research Note is not a commentary on any vendor or product implicitly referenced in this version of the note (or originally discussed in the 1994 iteration.) The specific vendor (and its product) do not matter. This story and analysis could be applied annually to yet another new concept, product or service hyped by someone with a vested interest in its success.
Is All This Hype Really Necessary?
Hype is a way of life in the IT industry. We examine hype’s causes and consequences (both positive and negative) and suggest ways to protect planning processes from the negative consequences.
- Hype is a primary weapon of technology CEOs and marketing professionals.
- IT professionals can and should exploit it where appropriate (and avoid it where it is not).
- Watch carefully for user requirements (or activities) driven by marketing hype.
- Use vendor-hype to open considerations of new options and alternatives.
Hype is exciting. It makes ad copy sizzle. It sells editorial content. It is used by users where and when it fits their needs. The communication process resembles the food chain, concentrating hype into more potent morsels for consumption in potent (but often misleading) sound bites. Hype is a necessary evil. Why?
Behavior resists change. People continue to emit behaviors long after they are no longer reinforced. Paradigm change is difficult. Hype is an attention grabbing brickbat. Unfortunately, those who attend most are often those who understand least and blindly plunge in (leaving the results for IT professionals to manage).
Technology changes faster than IT organizations can absorb it and integrate it in their plans. Mainstream investment in technology continues years beyond the point where it is in decline. The larger the initial investment, the more likely the lag between corporate investment patterns and “current” technology. Hype drives change.
Disorderly markets create opportunity. Users and vendors benefit most from the disorder they create by attacking the market with a new competitive advantage. Being first counts. Hype feeds on the disorder it creates by exploiting the ability of some to see new competitive advantages in technology.
Writers strive for pithiness, capturing the essence with as few qualifiers as possible. For example, we recall a study touting “179% return on investment” (ROI). It was done by an independent consultant and distributed by the referenced vendor. The published version of the study provided insufficient detail for readers to realize that:
- The reported return on investment (ROI) included only hand-picked success stories.
- The study excluded failed projects.
- It ignored cases in which companies tried the product but eventually selected a more suitable alternative technology.
- It failed to explore stalled development efforts and marginal successes.
The study never claimed to be assessing the likelihood of success. Nor did it claim to explicitly study project failures, but those qualifications were not stated in stories in the press.
The results were further summarized by marketers creating ads touting “179% ROI.” Readers and writers alike may fall victim to the information distillation process, confusing ROI within a hand-picked sample with expected ROI for the population at large (see Note 1).
Fueled by highly distilled (hype-laden) content, too many senior managers are likely to either go around the IT organization or demand it force fits the touted product into both appropriate and inappropriate applications.
- Actively fight behavioral rigidity. Users should involve the unknowing, those most likely to be swayed by hype, in IT planning activities – they have the least behavioral baggage with which to deal.
- Maintain flexibility. Users should re-examine systems’ life cycle assumptions and target ROI time frames. Multiple, short-cycle programs built primarily with loosely coupled off-the-shelf technologies can reduce the lag between internal implementations and external technologies.
- Exploit the “hypesters” where they fit within the overall, integrated, cross-organizational plans.
Note 1: Case Studies Do Not Have Predictive Validity
Is ROI measured only in successful case histories an accurate predictor of likely ROI for a future technology investment? No, it is no more predictive than looking at the historical performance of the top 65 mutual funds as an indicator of likely future mutual fund returns.
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