The Genesis of PhaseFour

By | August 11, 2021

It was in 2005, as I opted to take my leave of the corporate world and set up my own consultancy business in Laboratory Informatics, I was faced with a problem familiar to anyone opting to start a business: what will my company name be?  Hours, days, weeks went past, desperate for ideas to produce the killer name that would have clients flocking to the door.  As the ideas floundered, it became a case of scanning dictionaries, thesauruses, and Googling anything and everything, in a futile effort to find a meaningful name, but all to no avail.  The killer name eluded me.

But then one day, in preparing a presentation for a conference on Laboratory Information Management, I came across an article about the ‘Gartner Hype Cycles’, a diagrammatic means of illustrating market response to emerging technologies.  It was particularly relevant to the context of my work, which involved specifying and deploying technology-based systems to integrate the data-information-knowledge paradigm in laboratory work, and which usually would disrupt established paper-based systems and change the way laboratory scientists recorded and managed their work.  The ‘Gartner Hype Cycles’, at first glance, almost appear to be a spoof, due to the terminology used to describe the different stages of the life-cycle, although the diagram is almost self-explanatory.  The five stages are:

  1. Innovation Trigger
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations
  3. Trough of Disillusionment
  4. Slope of Enlightenment
  5. Plateau of Productivity

As I thought through how this would fit into my presentation, I started to mentally refer to the ‘stages’ as ‘phases’, and when I reached the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ I thought of it as the fourth ‘phase’, rather than the fourth ‘stage’, and that was the very moment PhaseFour Informatics was born.  Not only did I now have a company name, I also had a strap line: ‘Climbing the Slope of Enlightenment’. Oh, so simple!  The hours, days, and weeks of mind-numbing anguish of relentless searching for a suitable name could be cast to the rubbish bin of wasted time, as one tiny moment of enlightenment provided the elusive answer!

A year or two later, in delivering a training course at a conference in Palm Springs, I was explaining the Gartner Hype Cycles to the class, as they applied to emerging laboratory software systems.  Sitting at the back of the class was a lady who had not contributed much up to this point, but as she gazed at the diagram projected on the screen, she exclaimed ‘that looks just like marriage!’.  Needless to say, her comment was met with considerable amusement, and I came away thinking that’s a nice anecdote that I can get some mileage out of in future courses, although I was feeling somewhat perturbed as to what inspired her to make the comment.  It was only later, that it dawned on me how right she was, not necessarily in the context of marriage, or any other form of human relationship, and not necessarily in a negative way.  The concept of the Hype Cycles was developed to track emerging technologies, but basically it can be applied to track any new product, any developing relationship, or anything else that instigates change in people’s lives.  But more than that, it can provide a proactive, rather than passive understanding of change that can facilitate appropriate action as and when needed. Initial, high expectations focus on the positives and the good things; but there comes a point when reality cuts in and it becomes necessary to deal with the hidden frailties or negative aspects.  The trough of disillusionment is the critical turning point – if the downsides aren’t dealt with at this point, it’s goodnight Vienna.  But coming to terms with the downsides and focussing on the positives will provide the incentive to climb the slope of enlightenment.  

However, I can’t help feeling that the Hype Cycles only apply to optimists. I’m sure pessimists must have an alternative and inverted tracking system!

Nevertheless, I’ve always remained grateful to the lady for making the comment in the training course, and I hope that she was able to reach her personal plateau of productivity.

2 thoughts on “The Genesis of PhaseFour

  1. David Graham Atkins

    Thank you JT.
    I’m still in the slough of despond – how do I get out?
    Very interesting series on R4 just finished based on the books of Oliver Burkeman – The Power of Negative Thinking. It’s a great antidote to those hoards of screaming optimists that only know how to… well… scream!
    Yours diffidently,
    David (at Phase 1½)

    P.S. Ah, those early lab years. Then the future really did look orange (even before we knew it). No one cared about Gartner Hype Cycles’, knew who Garter was (or cared), revulsed at hype, but did occasionally cycle. Are they like a Moulton? Or a Dawes? Harry had a Claude Butler which turned its front wheel into a figure 8 on applying too much weight forwards. Am I missing the point here? Just give me the name of that woman at the back of the class – she sounds much more promising than all this hype nonsense.

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