The Emotional Hype Cycle

A predictable emotional journey for every endeavor

The principles that govern success, individual, leadership, and organizational greatness

A predictable
emotional journey

All the way back in 1995, Gartner, a well-known analyst firm, started publishing what they call the Gartner Hype Cycle. It was a means of tracking the market’s embrace of a particular technology as it followed a highly predictable path.

The peak of
inflated expectations

the Gartner Hype Cycle - Peak of Inflated Expectations

It begins with the introduction of some new solution or technology (the “Start”). Then, as hype builds around this technology, as is often the case, it escalates until the market reaches what is called the Peak of Inflated Expectations.

We can all remember a technology that, at one point, we were convinced was going to instantly change our lives.

Think Google Glasses, for instance.

But the majority of this hype is irrational. Hype is contagious, and it tends to spread like a plague until there’s really no way such a young technology can meet the market’s unrealistic expectations.

The trough of

The Gartner hype cycle, trough of disillusionment

At that point the market sours on the technology under the weight of our mounting disappointment in its inability to instantly make everything awesome. The market then sinks into what’s called the Trough of Disillusionment.

When this happens, we’re either convinced that the technology will ultimately amount to nothing, or we forget about it altogether (think Google Glasses).

The slope of

The Gartner Hype Cycle - Slope of Enlightenment

Over time, the technology begins to evolve and our now-humbled expectations are more easily met. Soon the market moves through what’s called the “Slope of Enlightenment”, as the two start to come together and we start to find out just the right way to use it.

This is where we start to find just the right application for the technology, and it has had the time to become an adequate solution for those specific applications.

The plateau of

The Gartner Hype Cycle - a predictable emotional journey

At that point, the technology reaches the plateau of productivity, which is where the application of the technology becomes clear.

Now free from the barrage of market skepticism, it can begin to really evolve, and solve new problems.

It‘s not about technology
it’s about life

What Gartner uncovered was less about technology, and more about a predictable path of human emotions about… well… anything.

Think of a marriage for example.

When you first meet “the one” and decide you’re going to get married, chances are you’ll quickly climb to the peak of inflated expectations. You’re absolutely convinced that you will never not get along. You’re basically the same person. You think that the other will always spend money the way you do, or will always want to snuggle they way you do, or always like the same food, that think they’ll always love your parents, or whatever… the list goes on and on.

So you get married and what happens? The trough of disillusionment. Sure, sometimes it takes a day or two (or maybe a year or two), but ultimately you’ll realize that your expectations around this wonderful partner weren’t entirely grounded in reality. And at that point you’ll be in the trough. You may even be tempted to throw in the towel, which is why about half of all marriages end in divorce.

But if both parties stay committed, and press through that trough (and of course given that there’s nothing egregious going on), then you move through it. You reach the slope of enlightenment, where each of you learn enough about the other that you start to accept those differences for what they are.

You may even begin to celebrate those differences. You learn to appreciate them, and leverage them. Being “one”, but being different gives you an advantage, after all, because now you have the benefit of two entirely different people, acting as one. This is when you reach the Plateau of Productivity.

For more examples of the hype cycle in action, click through the various lenses at the end of this section.

The same thing happens with friendships, and, well, any type of relationship. As with all knowledge, now that you’re familiar with this principle, you’ll start to see it all over. For more examples of this principle in action, click through some of the lenses at the end of this page.

The hype cycle
of change

This hype cycle is something we go through with our change efforts as well.

We have all experienced that moment of total clarity and enthusiasm. That moment where we feel the surge of emotion, the total commitment and absolute resolve to change, to do that thing we have been waiting to do, to take the step we have been waiting to take. In that moment, what I call a launch-event, we are absolutely convinced that the emotional hype we feel around that change effort will never dim. That somehow we will be forever changed, and that we’ll wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, with the same level of resolve and the same clarity of perspective. But we all know (later) that we don’t.

That moment of clarity and high-emotion is the peak of inflated expectations. They’re the expectations that our behaviors will immediately and automatically resolve to make it all happen. The expectation that the emotional fuel we feel in that moment will somehow endure indefinitely, powering our change effort until we’ve won. We have expectations that the path will be easy (or at least easier than it actually will). We expect the world will align to our will, the pathway will be paved, everyone will believe in us, and we’re just jumping onto a slippery slope to success.

It’s ok, we’ve all felt that way. In fact, that very irrationality, driven by the incredible power of hope, is often the emotional price we have to pay to catalyze movement toward our objective. Without it, we’d lack the emotional thrust to ever get off the ground.

But like the booster rockets of a rocket ship, ultimately they run out of fuel and fall off, and we’re left with the reality of the situation. That change is hard. That it takes time. We question ourself. We question, or even forget that moment we were once convinced we would never forget.

We’re in the trough of disillusionment.

This is human nature. It’s not just you, it’s everybody. What happens next, makes all the difference.

Because either you will, in that moment, decide to quit, or you will decide to endure, to forge onward and press forward. You’ll keep going.

The world belongs to those who keep going.

The pertinent question then, of course, is how do you keep going? How do you sustain energy toward a change initiative when you’re stuck in the trough of disengagement and disillusionment?

The 16 Elements were designed and built as the answer to that question. Each of them contributes to your ability to reactivate that energy you once felt. They are the long-term fuel supply that gives you what I call Change Endurance, and keeps you moving toward your ultimate objective.

Change endurance is the ability to make it through the trough, through to the slope of enlightenment, where you start to see your progress, you start to feel the momentum, the path forward starts to take shape, and you’re on your way to the plateau of productivity.

In pursuit
of excellence

In your pursuit of individual excellence, leadership excellence, organizational excellence, or all three… learning to recognize this hype cycle in action gives you power.

It gives you power to predict what’s coming. It gives you power to put the emotion of the moment in perspective. It gives you power to prepare.

It gives you the ability to self-regulate those emotions so that they neither compel you to be too rash (when you find yourself in the peak of inflated expectations), or to be too harsh (when you find yourself in the trough of disillusionment).

The lenses below will help you apply this principle to your specific situation.

How to
apply the principle

Click an icon below to read its application

Just knowing about the Emotional Hype Cycle gives you power. It gives you power to predict that your energy will expire, so that you can put systems and processes in place to refuel so that you can keep going.

One of the primary principles of the Escape Velocity system is to anticipate this inevitable upcoming energy drop, and to establish emotional supply lines of the critical 16 Elements of Engagement before that happens. After all, it’s the ability to sustain energy toward our initiative that is one of the principle differences from those who end up successful, making a meaningful and measurable difference, from those who just coast through life where they are, and succumb to all the natural energy cycles inherent to humanity.

So your first step, after you experience a personal launch event, where you get crystal clarity over where you’re going and feel the energy and thrust to get moving, is to learn the Escape Velocity framework, and put in place your energy plan so you can maintain momentum when everybody else (including you, before now) might have quit.

What’s more, knowledge of this principle gives you perspective so that if you do find yourself in a moment of low energy, where you’re tempted to give up and throw in the towel, you can recognize that this state too is temporary. You’ll know that this feeling is just part of the journey.

In truth, in some way’s it maybe even the best part, because from here, comes the slope of enlightenment. From here is where you begin to differentiate. Because here is when most people quit. But not you. From this moment on, you’re different, you’re still moving forward.

And yes, the slope may still be long, but every step you take from here on out is one step someone else is not taking, and that someone else may have been the former you.

So when you find yourself in the trough of disillusionment, recognize it for what it is… a temporary, yet critical part of a very important journey. A turning point. Because from here, you’re going up.

So keep going.

Apart from the individual application mentioned on the prior lens, it’s hugely beneficial to understand this cycle and to be able to properly diagnose where each of your children are on it.

Think for a moment where each of your kids are at on this emotional journey.

If they are at the start of something new, you can anticipate the upcoming peak of inflated expectations, or maybe if they’re already there, you can help them moderate accordingly. By reducing the height of the peak, you also reduce the strength of the crash that comes after.

Of course, you don’t want to come across as a killjoy. You want to celebrate and participate in those high-energy states with them. It turns out our memories are disproportionately influenced by those states because they have strong emotional markers attached to them, increasing their status in our long-term memory. So you want them to remember that you were excited when they were excited. But with wisdom, you can help temper their expectations a bit by helping them learn to self-modulate those expectations. I recommend teaching them this very principle, and then asking them questions to determine their expectations and then asking them to identify the ones that might fall into this category.

The ability to self-modulate our expectations while young will prevent many of the hard crashes that their contemporary peers will likely experience in life, and that can sometimes be hugely detrimental. Especially because they can end up making life decisions based off of those inflated expectations. Like the expectation of a huge payoff, and so you go buy something expensive, before it actually happens. None of us have ever done that before, have we?

Likewise, if you sense that they’re in a trough you can help them recognize that this is an inevitable part of every journey. You can help them see it in perspective, and then can use what you know of the 16 Elements to reactivate their energy toward their initiative so that they develop the grit, resolve, and sticktoitiveness to make it through to the slope of enlightenment.

We often think that kids aren’t capable of grasping complicated concepts like this, but in our experience working with youth, we find they love to be exposed to principles like this. It makes them feel grown up, like you trust them, and like you see them as an equal.

When employees enter our organizations, they, like anyone else, follow this predictable emotional cycle. When they start, they come in at the peak of inflated expectations.

They think their boss will only tell funny jokes. They think they’ll never not get along. They over anticipate the level of autonomy, or permission, or trust, or empowerment they’ll have. They think that nobody will ever cook fish in the break room. They think that… well, you get the point.

But eventually every, yes, every employee will reach the trough of disillusionment. They’ll encounter some sort of a departure trigger that will begin a path of emotional distancing. That will lead to the galvanization of resolve and the crystallization of discontent, at which point they usually leave.

This is why we see so many quits around the 6 month to 1 year mark. Employees hit the trough and increasingly lack the grit, sticktoitiveness and perseverance to go on. They think that if they just leave, they’ll be able to find that panacea organization that they originally thought yours to be. Which is partially why we see shrinking tenures today. The average employee only staying with an organization for a couple years.

But leading organizations have learned to measure employee sentiment, with tools like eNPS and disengagement diagnostics.

They have on boarding programs that don’t let go too soon, but rather hold on until that trough is in the past, because an employee that makes it through the slope of enlightenment, where they figure out the organization, and what it takes to be successful can reach the plateau of productivity. That, of course, is where the organization and the individual benefit the most from the relationship, and where you get most performance and productivity.

As a leader you want to watch out for when a new employee, or someone under your stewardship might be in the trough, knowing that it will happen sooner or later (usually sooner). Be prepared for it. Use the power of story to reconnect them to your mission, to remind them why they’re here. Help them realize how important they are to the cause. Make sure they have a plan on how to move forward. Help re-establish a shared identity by helping them feel a part of something bigger.

Use the 16 Elements as your guide to be sure that they have a motivational means in place to glide through this phase so that they can reach the slope of enlightenment, and accelerate their journey to the plateau of productivity.

If you need help with this, let us know.

You’ll first want to see the implications mentioned on the Leadership Lens. Leading organizations architect long-term onboarding processes, centered around an employee journey, and anticipating the arrival of the trough. Often historical employee data can help you predict when that will be (it’s often unique to a department). They also create casual checkpoints, train managers on what to look for, implement a cadence of meaningful 1:1’s, leverage frequent feedback systems, and take advantage of tools like eNPS and employee engagement survey’s.

It’s been found that the average cost of replacing an employee (when all is calculated, including lost opportunity cost and all that goes into bringing the new employee fully up to productivity) can be anywhere from 50-200% of that employee’s salary (it goes up with the level of the employee). So putting systems in place to catch when an employee is in a trough, and having interventions to bring them back into alignment is critical to avoiding unnecessary attrition and sustaining both engagement and productivity.

But it’s also important for organizations to realize that their customers go through this same cycle. Our customers will buy our products and have, to some degree, a peak of inflated expectations. They’ll expect it will be more than what it is.

At some point they’ll realize that the product or service or solution isn’t perfect. That in some ways it doesn’t meet their expectations. Maybe it’s that you don’t answer the phone fast enough, or that the solution doesn’t do “all the things”. That it has bugs.

That’s when a customer hits the trough of disillusionment. You’ve probably experienced this as a consumer yourself.

Leading organizations know just when, in the customer lifecycle, this is likely to happen, and develop implementation processes and customer-service reach-out processes to watch for this so that they can be there to actively manage them through that trough. To remind them of the real reason they bought, to reset expectations, and to help them get the value that the desire out of the solution.

That’s when customers reach the slope of enlightenment, when the implementation of the solution they’ve purchased is solving a real problem in a measurable and meaningful way.

That leads them to the plateau of productivity and they become long-time, loyal customers.

It can be helpful to note that the peak of inflated expectations a customer experiences is often the byproduct of an emotional hurdle they had to overcome to justify the expense of purchasing the product or solution.

The more justification that they had to do, either because price was high, or their financial timing was bad, or for some other reason… the higher this inflation actually is, the greater you can expect the resulting crash to be. This is where you can find the most toxicity in a customer, where they post bad reviews, and actively work to sabotage the success of the organization. A toxic customer is one usually found in the heart of the trough of disillusionment.

Leading organizations work, not only to minimize the height of the peak of inflated expectations (by taming sales promises, providing clear pre-and-post-sales documentation, or by other means), but they also have implementation process to watch for this so that they can be there to actively manage them through that trough.

If you have a business with a high post-sales return-rate, it’s usually because you have a trough problem brought about by a too-high, unmanaged peak. You’ll want to either look at expectations (often in sales or marketing), or analyze your product-market fit.

Lastly, your average customer LTV (lifetime value) is often a true measure of your ability to get customers into the plateau of productivity, because that’s where they keep paying you, and pay you for other things as well.

If you’d like consulting on the application of this principle, we’re happy to help.

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