Surviving the trough of disillusionment

Maybe this is you. You consider yourself someone with an eye for opportunity and you discover some new tech brewing that could be the next big thing. Either you form a startup, or you just get behind it as a new idea that will help your job.

With all new big tech ideas, there has emerged a similar pattern that I have seen enough times to be able to prepare for the roughly 4 year cycle over which it unfolds. It takes us through the exhilaration of discovery, the convulsive feeding-frenzy of everyone and their dogs wanting a piece – leading us swiftly over the precipice of despair when it all turns out to be shallow hype.

At this point, startups collapse, investors cringe, trade-press editors delete their tweets to the articles they once wrote declaring to have found the Holy Grail – and not too long after, brand advertisers spank their agencies.

But this story actually has a happy and encouraging ending. It’s not all doom and gloom. All we’ve done is work our way through what Gartner calls “The Hype Cycle”.

Gartner: The Hype Cycle

Gartner: The Hype Cycle

Take something you’re pushing now. Maybe it’s QR codes, or NFC, or Beacons. Or the Cronut! I find it really helps to know where you are on The Hype Cycle at any given time, because it could mean the difference between you throwing in the towel or persisting through the turbulent surf until you wash up onto the sand a little wiser about where it’s all leading.

Here are some indicators that you are in the Technology Trigger phase:

  1. You saw something launched at TechCrunch Disrupt that blew your mind and it went down a storm.
  2. A startup came out of nowhere with a press release stating they had secured a huge investment for something pretty cool that you can see yourself using.
  3. A brand like Coca Cola launch an experimental campaign utilizing some new tech in a sensational way and you kick yourself for not thinking of it first.

And if you’re in the Peak of Inflated Expectation, it looks more like this:

  1. You go to a tech expo and half the exhibits are by 3-week-old startups called Weazl, Gofr, Sqrl and Gerbl all selling the same thing, separated only by a choice of CSS stylesheets on their websites.
  2. Your clients (especially those who don’t normally like to innovate) are demanding a strategy for next year so that they’re not late to the party
  3. You see reams of thought-pieces and blogs attempting to talk with authority but which have completely butchered your idea of the optimum use-case.

If the world seems to be going nuts over some new tech, remember it has to crash first before it comes into its own

Alas, you’ve sunk into the Trough of Disillusionment when:

  1. Startups disappear like newly-hatched spider babies in the wind.
  2. Clients have come to terms with the budget spent by labeling it simply “good learnings” while forcibly stuffing the dog-eared coffeecup-ringed agency proposals into the nearest shredder.
  3.  Sales reps from annual expos and conferences dedicated to the tech, which only a year ago were bursting at the seams with Gold and Platinum sponsors (you being one of them), are emailing every day with fresh price reductions on renewed sponsorships.

And at last, surveying the scorched earth, you see the green glint of a single blade of new grass heralding the slow and steady growth of a revolution:

  1. After the fierce global race for the standard, only two or three companies remain, probably Google or Apple, as they silently nurse a routine patent-infringement lawsuit.
  2. A steady stream of well considered, tactical and results-driven case studies emerge from places you wouldn’t expect like Norway or Sweden or Malaysia that prove it was always a good idea if done right.
  3. Your 65-year-old mom can’t help but start using it – because it just felt natural to her – as you are shocked at the instant ubiquity that seemed to just creep up on you.

Unlike what your dad told you, quitting is actually a very good thing to do. Just use the above guidelines to make sure you’re doing it at the right time, and neither too soon nor too late.

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