The Shadow Side of the Hype Cycle

‘They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’

For every hyped technology, there is a shadow. We can learn a lot by looking for that shadow and asking ourselves what it is worth to us. Maybe then we will avoid the Sisyphean work of pushing technology up a hill of adoption.

We are familiar with the hype cycle. We experience a rush of inflated expectations with new technology and then it crashes into disillusionment before recovery. Between the peak and the crash, the hype of technology can throw a long shadow. Decisions, especially investment decisions, made at the peak can surface negatives that highlight issues that need to be addressed for sustainable productivity. If we don’t address these shadows, the rock will keep crushing us in the trough.

Gartner Hype Cycle

Let’s recap recent hype cycles to understand the shadow:

  • Large Language Models: the shadow reminds us the question is more valuable than the answer
  • Blockchain: it turns out that trust matters and trust less technologies are subject to scams and abuse
  • Gig Economy: we can create new flexibility of work and services but platform economics can reduce the value to participants and have externalities in the viability of suppliers in the wider market for goods and services.
  • Social Media: We can bring the world together on platforms at scale previously unimaginable but now misinformation apace spreads powered by algorithms capable of manipulation.
  • Influencer marketing: When we overvalue audiences, we have a chance to realise that influence should be more about authority, quality and effectiveness.

As Joni Mitchell’s song highlights ‘you don’t know what we’ve got til it’s gone’. These shadows help us see the value that lies behind the hype and paths to new and better ways of innovation.

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