Understanding of the process of innovation at the firm-level has evolved throughout recent decades from simple linear and sequential models to increasingly complex models embodying a diverse range of inter and intra stakeholders and processes. Distinguishable by their management focus, strategic drivers, accommodation of external actors and internal and external processes and function level integration, Rothwell (1994) documented five shifts or generations, demonstrating that the complexity and integration of the models increases with each subsequent generation as new practices emerge to adapt to changing contexts and address the limitations of earlier generations (Ortt and van der Duin, 2008) . For Rothwell (1994) the evolving generation of innovation models does not imply any automatic substitution of one model for another; many models exist side-by-side and, in some cases, elements of one model are interwoven with elements of another. More recently and following on from the seminal work of Rothwell’s innovation generation model typology, researchers (Kotesmir and Meissner, 2013) have suggested that Chesbrough (2003) open innovation model represent the latest wave of innovation models.

Table 1 illustrates an overview of the key characteristics of generations of innovation framework models. For a detailed overview of the various generations of innovation framework taxonomy see (Rothwell, 1994; Eleveens, 2010 ; O’ Raghallaigh et al., 2011 ).

Table 1 Generations of Innovation Framework Models

Model Generation Characteristic Strengths Weaknesses
Technology Push First Simple linear sequential process, emphasis on R&D and science


Radical innovation

Lack of feedbacks

No market attention

No networked interactions

No technological instruments

Market Pull Second Simple linear sequential process, emphasis on marketing, the market is the source  of new ideas for R&D


Incremental innovation

Lack of feedbacks

No technology research

No networked interactions

No technological instruments

Coupling Third Recognizing interaction between different elements and feedback loops between them, emphasis on integrating R&D and marketing


Radical and incremental innovation

Feedbacks between phases

No networked interactions yet

No technological instruments

Interactive Fourth Combination of push and pull models, integration within firm, emphasis on external linkages

Actor networking

Parallel phases

Complexity increment of reliability

No technological instruments

Network Fifth Emphasis on knowledge accumulation and external linkages, systems integration and extensive networking

Pervasive innovation

Use of sophisticated technological instruments

Networking to pursue innovation

Complexity increment of reliability
Open Sixth Internal and external ideas as well as internal and external paths to market can be combined to advance the development of new technologies


and external

ideas as well as

internal and

external paths to

market can be


Assumes capacity

and willingness to

collaborate and


Risks of external


The first generation technology push era of innovation models represents a simple linear structure which mapped innovation as a sequential process performed across discrete stages. Technology push (Figure. 1) is based on the assumption that new technological advances based on R&D and scientific discovery, preceded and ‘pushed’ technological innovation via applied research, engineering, manufacturing and marketing towards successful products or inventions as outputs.

Figure 1 First and Second Generation Models


Source: Rothwell (1994)

In the second generation market pull era a linear model depiction of innovation also applies, this time prioritizing the importance of market demand in driving innovation endeavors. What distinguishes this model from its predecessor is that rather than product development originating from scientific advances, new ideas originate in the marketplace, with R&D becoming reactive to these needs.

The third generation Interactive, Coupling or Chain-linked models overcame many of the shortcomings of the previous linear atypical examples models, by incorporating interaction and feedback loops to recognize that innovation is characterized by a coupling of and interaction between science and technology and the marketplace. Consequently, the third generation models integrate multiple in-house functions and interdependent stages. While third generation models are non-linear with feedback loops, a sequential nature of the stages of innovation were characterized (Figure. 2).

Figure 2 Third Generation Coupling Model


Source: Rothwell (1994)
Source: du Preez and Louw (2008)

In response, and aiming to reflect the high degree of cross functional integration within firms, fourth generation integrated or parallel models reflect significant functional overlaps between departments and/or activities (Figure. 3). A further novel feature of this model is the concept of external integration in terms of alliances and linkages with suppliers, customers, universities and government agencies.
Figure 3 Fourth Generation Integrated/ Parallel Model

Source: du Preez and Louw (2008)

Extending from the previous generation of innovation models, fifth generation systems integration and networking models emphasize that innovation is a distributed networking process requiring continuous change occurring within and between firms, characterized by a range of external inputs encompassing suppliers, customers, competitors and universities. Reflecting a systems thinking approach, the dominant characteristics are the integration of a firm’s internal innovation ecosystem and practices with external factors in the National Innovation Environment (du Preez and Louw, 2008) . The fifth generation models are characterized by the introduction of ICT systems to accelerate the innovation processes and communications across the networking systems in terms of raising both development efficiency and speed-to-market through strategic alliances (Figure. 4).

Figure 4 Fifth Generation Network Model


Source: du Preez and Louw (2008)

More recently and following on from the seminal work of Rothwell, innovation generation model typology researchers have signalled that open innovation represents the latest wave of innovation models. Reflecting a dominant orientation to the preceding network models of innovation, the open innovation approach is not limited to internal idea generation and development, as internal and external ideas in addition to internal and external paths to market (licensing, insourcing etc.) are facilitated within the innovation development chain (figure. 5).

Figure 5 Open Innovation Model


Source: du Preez and Louw (2008)

Source: du Preez and Louw (2008)

Open innovation is considered as a paradigm shift whereby competitive advantage can result from leveraging discoveries beyond the confines of a single internal R&D unit (inbound open innovation) and can equally benefit from relying exclusively on their own internal paths to market through engaging with external organisations that may be better positioned to commercialize a given technology (outbound open innovation). In a similar vein, Enkel et al. (2009) identifies three core processes can be differentiated in open innovation:
(1) The outside-in process: which involves enhancing and extending an enterprise’s own knowledge base through the integration of suppliers, customers, and external knowledge sourcing.
(2) The inside-out process: which refers to securing commercial/revenue benefits by bringing ideas to market faster than internal development via licensing IP and/or multiplying technology, joint ventures, and spin-offs.
(3) The coupled process: which combines co-creation with partners through alliances, cooperation, and reciprocal joint ventures with the outside-in process (to gain external knowledge) and the inside-out process (to bring ideas to market).

The linear first and second generation models have been widely criticized for their overly simplistic linear, discrete and sequential nature of the innovation process. In response, the third generation of models demonstrates how the various business functions interact during the innovation process in addition to marrying the importance of technology push and market pull dimensions. Nonetheless, the main criticism of third generation models for is that they do not detail sufficiently mechanisms for interacting with environmental factors. Regarding fourth and fifth generation models there is a paucity of evidence to demonstrate the impact of these models. Mindful of the above, and factoring in a range of best practices within a specific historical period the notion of a generalized, prescriptive or isolated best practice approach can be misleading. More recently, the model whereby enterprises invest exclusively in research and development departments to drive innovation is eroding with the advent of open innovation. Contrasted to closed innovation, where innovation activities take place entirely within one firm, open innovation processes are characterized as spanning firm boundaries presenting opportunities to reduce risk and commercialize both external ideas and internal ideas externally.

In conclusion, there is no one size fits all solution to designing and implementing a successful innovation process as innovation engagement and management is unique to its respective organisational context. Nonetheless, there is an ever increasing general body of information around innovation practice and modelling which has direct relevance to informing firm-level innovation practice: the set of rules, models and stages involved (Tidd, 2006 ; Cormican and O’ Sullivan, 2004 ); considerations for R&D, utilizing knowledge sources and responding to market forces (O’Raghalliagh et al., 2011) and the strengths and weaknesses of the various generations of innovation models (Rothwell, 1994).

Irrespective of the firm-level context, exploring innovation models is important because they can assist management teams in framing, understanding, and acting on the issues which need managing. Such issues include, but are not limited to: the key phases in the innovation lifecycle and the activities, actors and their interrelationships. Moreover, the linkage of organisational contextual factors equally impacts upon the overarching innovation ecosystem. The imperative of developing the most optimal innovation processes and models is of paramount importance give than innovation is the means by which organisations execute in the present and adapt to the future challenges and opportunities.


R. Rothwell, “Towards the fifth-generation innovation process,” International Marketing Review, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 7-31, 1994.
J. Ortt and P. van der Duin, “The evolution of innovation management towards contextual innovation,” European Journal of Innovation Management, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 522-538, 2008.
M. Kotesmir and D. Meissner, “Conceptualizing the innovation process – trends and outlook,” NRU HSE Working Paper Series Science, Technology, Innovation. No. 10/STI/2013, 2013.
H. Chesborough, Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003
C. Eleveens, “Innovation Management: A Literature Review of Innovation Process Models and their Implications,” Nijmegen, NL, 2010.
P. O'Raghallaigh, D. Sammon and C. Murphy, “A re-conceptualisation of innovation models to support decision design,” Journal of Decision Systems, vol. 20, no. 4, p. 369, 2011.
N. du Preez and L. Louw, “A framework for managing the innovation process,” in In: PICMET Proceedings, CapeTown, South Africa, 2008.
E. Enkel, O. Gassmann and H. Chesbrough, “Open R&D and Open Innovation: exploring the phenomenon,” R&D Management, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 311-316, 2009.
J. Tidd, “A review of innovation models discussion paper 1,” Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, Tanaka Business School, University of Sussex, 2006.
K. Cormican and D. O'Sullivan, “Auditing best practice for effective product innovation.,” Technovation, vol. 24, no. 10, p. 819–829, 2004.


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