Rothwell- Five Generations of Innovation Models

Roy Rothwell was for many years a key researcher in the field of innovation management, working at SPRU at the university of Sussex. In one of his later papers he provided a useful historical perspective on this, suggesting that our appreciations of the nature of the innovation process has been evolving from such simple linear models (characteristics of the 1960s) through to increasingly complex interactive models ( Table below)


Rothwell’s five generations of innovation models

First and second — Simple linear models – need pull technology push.

Third – Coupling model, recognizing interaction between different elements and feedback loops between them.

Fourth – Parallel model, integration within the firm, upstream with key suppliers and downstream with demanding and active customers’ emphasis on linkages and alliances.

Fifth – Systems integration and extensive networking flexible and customized response, continuous innovation.

His fifth generation innovation concept sees innovation as a multi actor process which requires high levels of integration at both intra and inter firm levels and which is increasingly facilitated by IT based networking . Whilst his work did not explicitly mention the internet it is clear that the kinds of innovation management challenge posed by he emergence of this new form fit well with the model. Although such fifth generation models and the technologies which enable them appear complex they still involve the same basic process framework.

Consequences of Partial understanding of the innovation process

Mental models are important because they help us frame the issues which need managing – but therein also lies the risk. If our mental models are limited then our approach to managing is also likely to be limited. For example, if we believe that innovation is simply a matter of coming up with good invention then we risk managing that part of the process well but failing to consider or deal with other key issues around actually taking that invention through technological and market developments to successful adoption.

Examples of such partial thinking include:

Seeing innovation as a linear technology push process (in which case all attention goes into funding R&D with little input from users). Or one in which the market can be relied upon to pull through innovation.

Seeing innovation simply in terms of major breakthroughs and ignoring the significant potential of incremental innovation. In the case of electric light bulbs, the original Edison design remained almost unchanged in concept but incremental product and process improvement over the16 years from 1880 or 1896 led to a fall in price of around 80%.

Seeing innovation as single isolated change rather than as part of a wider system (effectively restricting innovation to component level rather than seeing the bigger potential of architectural changes).

Seeing innovation as product or process only, without recognizing the interrelationship between the two.

Can we manage Innovation?

It would be hard to find anyone prepared to argue against that view that innovation is important and likely to be more so in the coming years. But that still leaves us with the big question of whether or not we can actually see what is clearly an enormous complex and uncertain process.

There is certainly no easy recipe for success. Indeed, at first glance it might appear that it is impossible to manage something so complex and uncertain. There are problems in developing and refining new basic knowledge problems in adapting an applying it to new products and processes problems in convincing others to support and adopt the innovation problems in gaining acceptance and long term use, and so on. Since so many people with different disciplinary backgrounds, varying responsibilities and basic goals are involved the scope for difference of opinion and conflicts over ends and means is wide. In many ways the innovation process represents the place where Murphy and his associated band of lawmakers hold sway, where if anything can go wrong, there’s a very good chance that it will.

Source: Managing Innovation