Push and Pull innovation. (Episode 111)

Push and Pull innovation. (Episode 111)

Interview with Martin Toscano , President, Evonik Industries de Mexico.


There are many different ways of looking at innovation. Here’s one interesting way: Learn to differentiate between “pull innovation” and “push innovation.”

Push Innovation is where a company comes up with ideas that they think will work for their customers and goes and presents them in order to get new business.

Pull Innovation is when the company goes to the customer to find a problem that they have and then try to solve it.

Pull Innovation is much more difficult because it forces you to go against the built-in “flow” of internal innovation and instead needs you to position yourself around the customers and their problems.

But both ways have value and merit.

The value of Push Innovation is that it pushes your clients into changing in ways they might not have thought about or did not think they were ready for.

The value of Pull Innovation lies in its closer connection to the customers’ strategy and goals.

I was inspired to think more about the concept of “Push and Pull Innovation” after having a conversation with Martin Toscano , President, Evonik Industries de Mexico. (Evonik Industries de México is the Mexican subsidiary of Evonik Industries AG, a leading global specialty chemicals company headquartered in Germany.)

Martin told me about how many companies, including his own, historically, have had a mindset of “build it and they will come”. That if the company comes up with some new, innovative molecules or solutions their customers are going to buy it. Very much of “push innovation”. And don’t get him wrong, Push innovation can be very successful. He shared how Evonik had invented a bio-degradable shampoo formula that they were able to bring to some of the largest shampoo producers in the world.

But he then reflected on how his company now, much more, is working on “pull innovation”. For example, how Evonik learned that fish farmers needed an alternative to small fish to feed to their salmon farms and how Evonik, based on this insight, developed a fermented corn solution that works very well.

One solution based on innovation pushed out from the company, one pulled in from insights from the clients.

According to Martin pull innovation is the hardest.

It’s hard to get people to think from the perspective of someone else’s business and not your own.

Sometimes we need to push innovation. Sometimes we need to let us be pulled to innovate. The combination of both gives you the most of the benefits since you would be acting along the whole value chain – you are participating with your products and technologies and not just with the shareholder who is buying your product, but using other players along the value chain to push (or pull) for you to get your product and technologies rolling into the value chain.

The message here is not to choose between pull or push innovation but to realize that they require quite different kinds of skillsets, competencies, and expertise.

Sometimes we need to push innovation. Sometimes we need to let us be pulled to innovate.

But make sure you know which technique you are using and which one works best in any circumstance you are in.

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