Skipping the Hype Cycle

Sipping from the firehose is a big problem in the tech industries. Every time I turn around there’s yet another new technology to make everything better. If you can’t quote rule 11, you need to learn it by heart. Now. I’ll wait right here while you do the memorization thing.

So — why the hype cycle? Essentially, it comes down to this: we’re emotionally driven creatures. Advertisers have known this for years; to wit —

On average, consumers are exposed to more than 5000 advertisements per day. Among those 5000-plus advertisements, only about 12 will make an impression on the average consumer. How can your business stand out among the clutter? Whether you are a Fortune 500 company or a recently funded startup, the best way for your business to stand out is by building emotional connections with your audience. Your business needs to acknowledge that selling a product is no longer enough. Now it’s all about the experience you provide with it. This experience is dependent on your ability to trigger the right emotions, from the right audience, at the right time. via entrepreneur

Mark the last words in that quote: it’s about selling an experience, rather than a product. Then ask yourself this simple question: what — really — is the difference between a unified, hyperconverged, high performance cloud platform and a mainframe? Or, to back a few years, what is really the difference between a layer 3 switch and a router? The answer really lies in one word.


Not how much you have, but the experience of the buyer. What does it feel like to buy this product? Does it make you feel smart (this is what everyone else is doing)? Does it make you feel comfortable (nobody ever gets fired for buying IBM/Cisco/etc.)? Does it make you feel like you’re on the cutting edge? Does it make you, well, just, feel?

We tend to think of the engineering market as somehow detached from this emotional cycle. After all, we’re not talking about the latest in fashion (particularly in a world where anti-fashion is the new fashion, if you can grock that one). We’re not talking about cars. We’re talking about computers, and routers, and switches, and services.

I can just hear you saying, “I’m an engineer! I don’t let my emotions get in the way!” Yeah, right. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my study of philosophy over the last several years, it’s that those who most believe they are least susceptible to emotional manipulation are actually the most likely to fall into focusing on emotions and what advertisers call “the experience.”

Philosophy is a long story of balanced systems being decried for their irrational roots, followed by someone trying to provide rational roots, followed by someone realizing the rational roots are bunk, followed by the collapse of the rational roots into pure unadulterated mysticism with no rational component. If it weren’t so, we might have actually learned something through philosophy by now.

Our rational approach to the problem at hand is often what makes us vulnerable to the emotional manipulation of the hype cycle.

Okay — so how do we get off the hype cycle? To go back to the beginning, rule 11 plays a major role. Let’s look at some basic rules.

First, learn to recognize when technology is being repeated. This means learning the theory (hard as that might be), and learning to see things as a set of problems and solutions that span across many generations of time. Getting there is going to take reshaping some models, and that’s going to hurt. Just keep reading my blog, I have a whole series of posts in these areas. (see what I did there?).

Second, stop looking for the technology that’s going to solve your business problems. There isn’t one.

While new technology might help you get the job done quicker, no amount of shining magic and unicorn dust peddled by vendor marketers will solve your problems until you realize it’s time to change the processes and responsibilities. Ivan P

Third, stop hiring and following people based on the hype cycle. Engineering sense is a real thing, and it’s an important thing, even if the HR system can’t see it. Learn it, develop it, hire it, teach it.

Finally, learn to balance the emotional in the buy with the rational. Look at the underlying problems, look at the available models, and match them together. In other words, be an engineer, not a consumer. There’s a difference for a reason.