Gartner recently released its Emerging Technology Hype Cycle for 2014.  The cycle phases themselves are as interesting as the technologies depicted.

Gartner’s research shows that there is an “Innovation Trigger” followed by the following four stages

  1. Peaks of Inflated Expectations
  2. Trough of Disillusionment
  3. Slope of Enlightenment
  4. Plateau of Productivity

These stages were interesting because they put structure to the observations about research technology that has emerged in the past 10 years.

Social media is the most vivid example.  For a year or two, everyone wanted on the social media bandwagon because everyone saw the potential.  Social media was hot.  Every conference had tracks and keynote speakers extolling the benefits of social media.  Then we researchers began to deal with the reality of applying social media to real world problems.  As an industry, we began to get disillusioned because we could not make the reality live up to the hype and promise.  Social media hit the Trough of Disillusionment.  Now, it appears to be on the Slope of Enlightenment as we begin to discover that social media is a great research tool when used intelligently as a part of a larger plan.  We are getting smart about it (i.e., enlightened).

In the last few years, we have seen the same thing happen with mobile, particularly mobile qualitative research.  Mobile’s great promise was followed by the difficulty of execution presented by small screen size, ponderous video downloads and laborious analysis and short mobile user attention spans.  Appropriate and beneficial research applications of mobile are only now becoming integrated into ongoing research programs as the tool we had hoped it would be.

The latest hype has been Big Data.  No doubt it is, and will be, an amazing research tool.  We all see the promise.  But, like other breakthroughs before it, big data will likely need to go through the disillusionment process before we truly understand how to use it and use it well.  Then it too will be a productive new tool for the researcher everyman.

So, for research technology innovation, I might alter Gartner’s Hype Cycle Stages.  After the Innovation Trigger, I would offer:

  1. Peak of Expectant Promise
  2. Trough of Reality
  3. Slope of Learning and Transformation
  4. Plateau of Integration

So far, none of the innovations that have peaked with the Expectant Promise that stirs our adrenaline have proved to be the “Research Panacea of the Millennium.”  Each innovation starts out with tremendous promise.  Prophets arise to claim that a new world has arrived.  We listen. We dream.  We hope.  We become disillusioned.  Finally, each innovation becomes integrated to the methods and innovations that came before.  None is a panacea; all contribute to the whole.

That being said, we are in a Technology Revolution akin to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century.  Innovations are coming more quickly than ever before.  None is a panacea, yet each contributes to a quickly evolving research landscape that is, and will be, vastly different than it was just a few years ago.  As the innovations emerge, we need to embrace them, but we also need to understand that they will not live up to the promise of the prophets in the short term.  They will diminish in the public eye in deference to the next sexy innovation only to re-emerge in a more mature and useful way.

As I have said before, this is the most exciting time EVER to be involved in the marketing research industry.

Originally published on Qualblog as "The Research Hype Cycle"