on hype cycles and easy answers

David Kernohan published a revised edtech hype cycle, rightly pointing out that it’s not a cycle, and that “progression” to the “plateau of productivity” is not a foregone conclusion. Here’s David’s EduBeardStroke Parabola 2013:

EduBeardStroke Parabola

I’ve seen the Gartner Hype Cycle used quite a bit – I’ve even used it myself on campus briefings and reports. It’s never sat well with me, but I couldn’t articulate why. I mean, Gartner hires The Experts to Make Sense of Things. And this is how they do it. And people understand the simplifications and generalizations, and feel comforted that Everything Will Be OK.

David raises some excellent points. Go read his post.

The Hype Cycle does a few things:

  1. it (over)simplifies a concept, reducing it to a single point on a (curvy) line. The only variable is its position on the (curvy) x-axis. And it implies that time (which is the typical x-axis) is all that’s needed. Invent a new shiny thing. Put a dot on the line. And wait. Continue waiting. BOOM! It’s moved through The Cycle, and is now resting happily on The Plateau of Productivity. Awesome! The reason people don’t adopt something early on is because they are dullards who just don’t get how awesome things are. And those that adopt it later are merely sheep who finally wised up and incorporated the inevitable product of time marching on.
  2. it implies a single shared context. that Shiny Thing #1 is the same thing for everyone, and has the same impact and risks and costs and benefits. That everyone is moving, lock step, together through the inevitable march of time as Shiny Things progress through The Hype Cycle until they reach the point where an organization (it’s always an organization or institution or company – no individuals need apply) is comfortable enough with the risk:benefit ratio and decides to incorporate the inevitable. But this is bullshit. Every organization has a unique context. And individuals matter.
  3. it provides the Easy Answer. Gartner is in the business of selling reports on extremely complicated or chaotic fields – Big Data, Higher Education, etc… – in order to help organizations and companies to understand change. Buy the report, get the latest Hype Cycle, and you’ll see at a glance where things are at, and what your organization or company needs to do. But easy answers aren’t useful. They placate the CYA MBA crowd who mumble things like “due diligence” and “mitigating risk” etc… while not providing an actual analysis of what these changes mean to their own organization or company. Nope. Gartner said it’s not quite at the peak of inflated expectations, so we have at least 6 months before we have to allocate budget resources to addressing it… – this is the kind of thing Scott points out with his comment on David’s post – it’s probably the biggest danger of this kind of thing. All we need to do is buy access to a report, put a dot on a (curvy) line, and BOOM hey, presto! we’re innovating! we’re adapting to change! To the presentation circuit!

Look at something like Learning Object Repositories – according to The Hype Cycle, that is now a mature/old concept. It should be grazing in the Plateau of Productivity by now. Except for most people, it’s a non-concept any more. So, does it drop back to the Trough of Disillusionment? Does it drop off the curve entirely at some point? Or is it Productivity Plateau for the folks that can actually use something like a repository? Which context wins?

So. What to do when the crowd-that-is-paid-better-than-me uses The Hype Cycle as gospel when describing innovation and the state of the art? Yeah. I don’t know, either. But I’m more likely to include a reference to Kernohan’s fantastic Parabola than I am to use the Hype Cycle. Again.

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