Whether interspecific hybridization is important as a mechanism that generates biological diversity is a matter of controversy. Whereas some authors focus on the potential of hybridization as a source of genetic variation, functional novelty and new species, others argue against any important role, because reduced fitness would typically render hybrids an evolutionary dead end. By drawing on recent developments in the genetics and ecology of hybridization and on principles of ecological speciation theory, I develop a concept that reconciles these views and adds a new twist to this debate. Because hybridization is common when populations invade new environments and potentially elevates rates of response to selection, it predisposes colonizing populations to rapid adaptive diversification under disruptive or divergent selection. I discuss predictions and suggest tests of this hybrid swarm theory of adaptive radiation and review published molecular phylogenies of adaptive radiations in light of the theory.