Thunk # 1: The Push and Pull of Innovation

Speaking very generally, there are two camps in the world of innovation.  I want to call them the “push innovators” and the “pull innovators”.  Push and Pull.

Both are right, or half right.   But I think both are also half wrong inasmuch as they tend to outline their position on innovation by denigrating the value of the other.

Let me try to be a bit more concrete.

Push innovation is all about ideas, invention and seeing connections.   This notion holds a lot of sway.  In the public imagination, I suspect this is what innovation is about.  It’s the eureka moment; it’s the genius a Steve Jobs who can see what others cannot.  There’s a lot written on innovation from this general perspective.

But there is a growing trend in the innovation world that wants to challenge this framing.  Pull innovation is all about focusing on practical effect.   It focuses less on the mysterious world of innovators and the way they operate and more on the measurable impact they have in the work.  Michael Schrage sums up a version of this view when he said: “Ideas are the enemy.”   Pull innovation focuses on experiments and tests to validate the efficacy of the idea.   It’s about the output or outcome, not the input or idea.

I welcome the attempt to democratize innovation, to make it more transparent and more efficacious.  I agree it has to be as much about fast action as piercing perception.  The art of innovation needs to come together with the science of innovation.  The quantitative can and should sit alongside the qualitative.

My problem is with the binary, either/or rhetoric of so much that is written.  Innovation operates in both a push and pull manner.