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The innovator’s tug of war: push and pull innovation and the Technology-Push Lead User Concept

Engagement Manager

One of the challenges of technology innovation is the balancing act of identifying an application which responds to market needs (“pull”) and is informed by the technology’s attributes (“push”).  The Technology-Push Leader User Concept (T-PLUC) blends push and pull innovation to inform the development and application of a given technology.

Push innovation traditionally involves three steps:  firstly, analyse the technology’s attributes i.e. develop an understanding of what gives the technology an edge over alternatives, and the needs the technology might fulfil. Secondly, determine interest in the technology through engaging potential users.  Lastly, evaluate feedback from the users and boil down the potential applications.

Pull innovation, on the other hand, is market-focused, starting with questions such as “where is the most pain felt in x market?” and then attempting to address the pain through innovation.  While pull innovation tends to be lower risk and more incremental, technology-push innovations are more likely to be higher risk, higher reward breakthrough innovations, entering new markets and creating new trends, with a greater chance of failure.

Joachim Henkel developed the Technology-push Lead User Concept (T-PLUC) to de-risk and apply greater rigour to push innovation.  The concept involves five steps:

  1. Determine the technology’s characteristics
  2. Identify trends which are boosted by these characteristics
  3. Search for markets where these trends matter
  4. Identify lead users, or “people in the know”, who are ahead of the market concerning these trends
  5. Develop product concepts along with lead users

By involving lead users, namely experts in the market, T-PLUC has a strong focus on the forefront of applications and the dynamic trends (as opposed to static needs) of the market. In this case, the lead users are actively involved in the identification of applications, have ideas for new products and, as highlighted in Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm bell curve, are sometimes even involved in the innovation itself.  By having a strong focus on the end-user, the T-PLUC methodology can allow the inventor to leapfrog the manufacturer and, sometimes in collaboration with the lead users, realise the greatest value from the invention.

T-PLUC, therefore, finds the sweet spot between market and technology-focused innovation by marrying the classic traits of push innovation with a systematic approach to finding key market trends.