Hype Cycles + Diffusion Theory of Innovation

The diffusion theory of innovation and hype cycles are two ways to look at how ideas spread. What if you combined them? 

Both the hype cycle and the diffusion of innovation are theories, and definitely not natural laws. But they provide an interesting lens to look at innovation through. 

The hype cycle

Maybe you’ve seen Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” graphic before. The theory says that someone makes something new (an innovation) and everyone starts talking about it. The hype builds up and becomes a bubble. The hype bubble pops, and everyone is cynical about the innovation. Then, slowly, some of those innovations turn out to be useful everyday things


Major props to whoever named the stages. The “trough of disillusionment” > “slope of enlightenment” > “plateau of productivity” progression is fantastic. Although, on a more philosophical level, I have beef with the ultimate goal after enlightenment being... more productivity.

Diffusion theory of innovation

Closely related to the concepts of hype cycles are theories of how innovation spreads. Everett Rogers is credited with creating the diffusion theory of innovation in the early 60s. It explains how an idea (or innovation) diffuses, or spreads. To do so, diffusion theory divides consumers into 5 categories: Innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.


The "diffusion of hype" model

We'll call it the diffusion of hype model. Have a better name? Let me know. I'm not married to it. The basic idea here is that by layering the diffusion of innovation's adopter categories on top of the hype cycle, we can start to think about who has a product and is talking about it.

And, it might help determine when one could expect to make the transition from "the trough of disillusionment" to the "slope of enlightenment" by looking at the people that make up a user base. Here's a rough take on what it might look like.



A few pieces to highlight:

  • In this representation, an innovator might choose to continue believing in a technology even as hype dies down and the general public questions its usefulness. 
  • The early adopters and innovators are the only consumers willing to wade through the trough of disillusionment.
  • For a laggard to invest time or money into an innovation, it must be proven viable or productive.
  • And, once laggards are willing to invest in a technology, it can reach a plateau of productivity. 

Although it's more of a thought exercise than anything scientific or data proven, I do think it highlights some interesting real phenomena. Worth fleshing out further? Perhaps!