Don`t Believe the (Tech) Hype

Gartner’s Hype Cycle report lists technologies and trends that are moving through Bunyanesque stages, such as the “Trough of Disillusionment” and the “Slope of Enlightenment.” The idea is that we get excited about new things, talk them up, find out that nothing works as easily as expected, and eventually the good stuff shakes out and makes a difference in the enterprise.

In their new book, Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time, Gartner Fellows Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino discuss ways to capitalize on innovation without getting caught up in the hype.

After a decade of studying the hype cycle and how companies succeed and fail at innovation adoption, we have evolved a set of activities and tools based on best practices across a variety of companies, industries and situations. We’ve encapsulated these activities in a process we call the STREET process. STREET ends at the point where an innovation becomes a part of mainstream project development or management processes.

Scope. Decide what’s valuable to you and how much risk you’ll take to get it. In this stage, you specify why you need to innovate–what organizational purposes must be served–to provide focus and context for innovation investments and to counter hype-driven temptations that lure you into following the crowd and adopting too soon. The scope stage leads you to understand your corporate mission, objectives, strategies, needs and values, as well as business opportunities and aspirations, and to determine how aggressive your organization wants to be with respect to innovation adoption.

Track. Seek out relevant innovations from a broad range of sources and track their progress along the hype cycle to notice advances in their maturity. You are aiming to find candidates that broadly match your organization’s scope of needed innovation and fall within its risk comfort zone. As you identify such opportunities, you capture them in a way that can be communicated to others in the organization and that lends itself to further decision making.

Rank. Consider alternative candidates by ranking potential innovations and selecting those worthy of immediate attention. Identify those innovation ideas that look most likely to bring significant benefit to your organization within a timeframe that fits your risk profile. A virtue of ranking multiple innovations at the same time is that it helps you avoid the danger of assessing an innovation on its own merits, rather than in relation to other options for investing the same limited resources.

Evaluate. Here you build in regular evaluation and decision points by creating a staged evaluation program that incorporates many points of view. Project the likely path an innovation will take through the hype cycle–in particular, its speed of progress–to determine the right time to adopt.

The result is a decision to take one of four courses: Move forward with adoption; revisit the evaluation in revised form–for example, with a different product or an alternative process; return the candidate to the track phase until it matures further; or drop the innovation from further consideration.

Evangelize. Obtain the cooperation and support of those who will influence the successful adoption of the innovation by its ultimate users. Marketing, educating, networking and inspiring others take place throughout the adoption process, but their importance is most apparent after the evaluation phase.

You must overcome resistance by inspiring decision-makers to appreciate the innovation’s business impact. You must exploit or counter the emotional effects of the hype cycle–for example, by urging realistic expectations at the peak and focusing on future benefits during the trough.

Transfer. Continue to inspire, educate and involve other people to transfer responsibility to those who will implement or use the innovation. This requires more than transferring knowledge. It’s about sparking the enthusiasm and sense of ownership required for the innovation to take hold. For successful transfer, the players ultimately responsible for driving or using the innovation must be involved in earlier stages of the STREET process–in particular, the evaluation activities.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Press. Excerpted from Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time by Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino. Copyright © 2008 Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino. All rights reserved.

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