The search for the elusive silver bullet

Beware the all too easy ‘answer’

Businesses have a tendency to look for and accept silver bullets. Silver bullets are apparent solutions to complex and wicked problems. Solutions that initially appear to be uber-easy and uber-effective, yet too often disappoint and take our collective eyes off more effective approaches to applying technology and innovation.

Finding each technology’s true value

Each new technology creates initial excitement and will often be hyped as the next silver bullet. Usually, the hype is rooted in a lack of understanding of the technology and its applications. Such limited knowledge leaves the imagination to run wild and the potential of the technology is easily overstated. Next comes disillusionment, when reality fails to match the hype. Finally, once the technology is understood and proves its real value in the market, full adoption can be achieved. The problem is that, during the silver bullet phase, significant amounts of time and money can be wasted through chasing undeliverable goals.

Why we fall for silver-bullet sales patter?

Why are we prone to believe in silver-bullet promises made for new technologies, even though there’s usually a significant base of academic work showing that such claims simply can’t be realised?

First, there is an old quote (variously attributed to everyone from Julius Caesar to Demosthenes) that says: “men willingly believe what they wish to be true”. But equally, at the executive level, the focus is very much on money. Execs are usually far removed from the daily grind of making technology perform. From that remove, the promise to fix a multitude of problems with one product, for one price, is a powerful lure.

What’s more, no task appears as easy as one that you do not have to do yourself. Decision makers will typically need to solve problems that are occurring well beyond their daily experience. It is easy to buy into the all-too simple solution when we have limited opportunity to experience the complexities of the problem first hand.

Businesses excel by finding the blend of technology for their purposes

In truth, each new technology brings changes to different businesses in different ways. Put simply, there are no silver bullets. What does exist is a belt-clip full of bronze bullets and you get the best results for your business by knowing just how and when to fire each one.

Focusing on what works best for your business

The history of technology shows a long-standing obsession with the “next big thing”. And, just as the next big thing is being fêted, there are often ludicrous predictions of doom for the last big thing. Yet television didn’t kill radio, and DVD has not killed cinema. Contrary to popular opinion, new technology rarely eliminates its predecessor in an industry.

Instead, technology typically fragments what it touches. It creates multiple new platforms, and above all it lowers the cost of entry into each sector to which it is applied.

Looking for productivity among the hype

Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report provides strategists and planners with an assessment of the maturity, business benefit and future direction of more than 2,000 technologies, grouped into 119 areas. New hype cycle topics for this year, for example, include the digital workplace, connected homes, enterprise mobile security, 3D printing, and smart machines.

This report is the longest-running of its kind. It provides a cross-industry perspective on the technologies and trends that businesses should be exploring.

Assessing which technologies relate to your business purpose

The Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report features technologies that are the focus of attention “because of particularly high levels of hype, or those that Gartner believes have the potential for significant impact,” said Jackie Fenn, vice president and Gartner fellow. Enterprises can use this to identify which technologies are emerging and which business trends may result.

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“As enterprises embark on the journey to becoming digital businesses, they will leverage technologies that today are considered to be emerging”, said Hung LeHong, vice president and Gartner fellow. “Understanding where your enterprise is on this journey and where you need to go will not only determine the amount of change expected for your enterprise, but also map out which combination of technologies support your progression.”

How Ni can help

Ni regularly reviews selected elements of the Gartner’s Hype Cycle reports. We can advise what might be important for your business and how different technologies can be used together to serve your business purpose. We can explain how to dodge costly and over-hyped silver bullets and which bronze bullets might be more effective. We can help you to take an informed view on how to extract value and business performance from emerging technologies.