The self inflicted innovation “backlash” and attendant hype cycle


This is the hype cycle developed by Jackie Fenn at the Gartner Group a few years ago. This specific 2004 dated one is from a very comprehensive introduction by the BBC to the effects and subsequent impact of a hype cycle. To quote:

"Some years ago a number of analysts observed there was a pattern of new technology," says Laura Behrens, analyst at Gartner. "Something new would happen, there would be tremendous excitement, followed by disillusionment. Then some of those would eventually become well understood in their markets. "This happened with such regularity that they could do this model."

On a curve of development, the Hype Cycle tries to predict where technologies are heading: into our pockets and living rooms, or into the Betamax graveyard.

It starts with the "technology trigger", where a breakthrough or event generates publicity, exposing the gadget or technology to a wider audience. This is not a Middle Earth battle ground; it is where technology goes to wilt when it fails to deliver its promises. As people start to learn more about the technology, it starts to struggle up the slope of enlightenment. The final stage is the "plateau of productivity" when it becomes mainstream.

This is a good thing to know, particularly when there are signs of loss of interest in a topic or technology.  Reading Dominic Basulto’s Endless Innovation blog where he has been tracking this "backlash against innovation" a topic begun by Bruce Nussbaum over at BusinessWeek brought the concept of a "hype cycle" to mind. Just as there can be a hype cycle for a new technology, as demonstrated by Gartner and the Beeb, there can be one for media’s "next big thing".  It seems to me as though Bruce is currently observing state 3: The trough of disillusionment when it comes to innovation and I hope, not design, just by the association of the two words the media themselves have created. In Nussbaum’s words,

The truth is that the backlash is against the fad of innovation, not
the fact of it. The backlash is against CEOs who get up and shroud
their companies and their reputations in the rhetoric of innovation
while continuing to sell out-of-date, poorly designed products and
services. Consumers know this is fake and realize that the talk about
innovation is not authentic. Indeed, CEOs who use innovation as a brand
fad do deep damage to their brands.

Whereas I stand on this side of whatever divide there seems to be forming, imho I would like to add my two rupees worth on this topic. I’m also guessing that strategy or core competence as elements of a corporate planner’s toolbox might have gone through a similar media created boom and bust cycle.

I believe that bringing Kevin McCullagh’s article from Core77 to mind as one on the backlash of design, creates some dangerous confusion by conflating the two words design and innovation as interchangeable. Kevin’s points are based on the long term results of the bifurcation of the established design industry – one that has survived hype cycles before and will again – while the innovation faddish backlash is more boredom with the topic du jour in every print media you care to name. These are two different issues here. What do you say, Kevin?

On the other hand, from Reena Jana’s BusinessWeek article titled "The innovation backlash" come a couple of insightful snippets, ones that can point the way towards those of us who use the tools and methods studied as part of our toolkit in order to create effective and viable business models, products and services. The first is a quote from Harold Sirkin,

Sirkin urges companies to focus on the return on their innovation
, rather than on innovation itself. "There’s a belief that
innovation is about great ideas," Sirkin says. "But in the business
context, it’s also about bringing a great idea to market, and how to
maximize the payback on the investment made in the idea.

and from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, one of my favourite reads from Harvard Business School,

Kanter also advises managers to make sure there are no culture clashes between internal teams working on a company’s traditional products and its new, innovative experiments. "It’s important…that there are close personal connections between innovators and people involved in established activities—that they communicate often and understand one another," Kanter e-mails. "That helps innovators tap resources, including experience, that might already exist in the business. And it ensures that when it is time to fold the innovation into the flow of the mainstream business, people understand it and are ready for it."

Overall, this "backlash" had to happen, the one against the "innovation and creativity" fad that apparently swept through media [only it seems, since companies seem to be still waking up to the effects] – now perhaps we can focus on phase 4 and 5 – the slope of enlightenment and ultimately the plateau of productivity.

/waits for backlash against the emerging market economies of India and China. Hopes for backlash against BusinessWeek’s penchant for comparing India and China. Can’t wait for backlash against ROI.

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