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Choosing an innovation model

Image of innovation growthWhat creates the need for an innovation model? For most businesses, it is the need for growth. The long term expectation for mature companies is organic growth of 4 to 6 percent, generated by the need to provide a reasonable return to shareholders. For smaller companies, growth demands can be significantly higher.

Effective innovation provides the solution to meeting this growth demand. An innovation model provides the conceptual framework for identifying and advancing the change ideas most likely to generate the value needed to create sustained growth.

The familiar Linear Innovation Model

A paper by Benoit Godin (Godin, 2005) provides a historical discussion of the Linear Innovation Model. He suggests that the source remains unclear, but he offers an initial early reference from 1945. The model is ultimately summarized with the following steps:
Basic research → Applied research → Development → (Production and) Diffusion.
Godin also presents a time-based taxonomy, suggesting how this model has developed over time.

The Linear model emphasizes scientific advance over contributions that come from players later in the process, leading to a key source of criticism. The continuity of use for this model, despite much opposition, is partially attributed to its simplicity. More importantly, the statistics available based on the linear model, or lack of statistics for alternative models, may be delaying change to other innovation framework options.

Characteristics to look for in an innovation model

A model attempts to provide a representation that can help us understand how things work. Some attributes to consider for a model of innovation include:

  • Simplicity - Is the model easy to understand and use?
  • Descriptive - Is there sufficient detail to enable explanation, comparison, and/or imitation (use)?
  • Assessable - Does the model enable measurement and provide a vehicle for evaluating alternatives?
  • Predictive - When model assumptions are true, does the model provide probabilities for described outcomes?
  • Timely - Does the model provide assessments, measurements, and insights that enable innovation opportunities in a timeframe that will lead to success?

The timeliness element for an innovation model can be particularly challenging. Innovation requires decisions for change which are often resisted, particularly when changes may cannibalize current business. A good model will provide the information, insight, and needed motivation for internal change before external changes can disrupt the company.

Premature change can also be ineffective if environmental conditions are not ready to support the change being promoted. An effective model will detect environmental readiness for change adoption, enabling acceptable returns for innovation investments.

Other innovation models

Picture of phase gate innovation modelInnovation research has generated additional models that attempt to address deficiencies seen in the linear model. Sources of ideas that can generate value have been broadened, recognizing that some highly successful innovations have not been the direct result of application of scientific or technology advances.

Variations of the linear model have been developed that include:

  • Technology push - This has a small change from the linear model where marketing and sales is added after production.
  • Market pull - This variant suggests that research and development is responding to a market need, resulting in this modification to the earlier model:
    Market Need → Development → Production → Sales.
  • The Phase Gate Model - This modifies the linear model by recognizing that there are feedback loops and time variations between steps, and establishes readiness criteria for moving between major phases of innovation development. Phase Gate approaches are often represented by a funnel.

In the 1980's, Proctor and Gamble developed the "Connect and Develop" model to address the increasing costs of keeping all research and development within the company, representing an example of open innovation. In this model, parts of research and development come from outside the company as a result of networking and partnerships.

Technology adoption curves suggesting an innovation modelRecent models, such as those by promoted by Everett Rogers and Geoffrey Moore, have tended to focus on elements of adoption. The "Diffusion of Innovations" from Rogers focuses on psychological profiles that characterize adopters at various stages of an innovation adoption cycle, enabling a focus on market innovation. Moore's focus on the technology adoption lifecycle points to where innovation is more likely to be effective given the current state of a specific product or service level of acceptance.

Approaches coming from innovation research, such as Actor-Network theory and Social Shaping of Technology, have led to a broader picture of how innovation works. This has led to new types of innovation such as user innovation. Models are attempting to address change discontinuities that can disrupt companies and create paradigm shifts. This innovation research can become quite complex, entering areas of philosophy, such as epistemology, the theory of knowledge.

Advantages of finding the right innovation model

Detecting the need for change, or finding new places to generate growth can present significant challenges for any company or organization. Having an innovation model that facilitates and promotes understanding of how things change could make the difference for the long term survival of the business. An effective model:

  • Provides a conceptual framework and promotes innovation thought
  • Aids faster identification of new sources of innovation
  • Facilitates better timing for market introduction
  • Helps find innovation opportunities aligned with timeframes needed for the business
  • Reduces likelihood of competitive disruption
  • Increases return on innovation investment
  • Improves ability to anticipate needed innovation
  • Sustains competitive advantage and enables long term growth

In summary, an innovation model could be a key element for creating competitive advantage and is critical for sustained growth in today's business environment.


Godin, Benoit. "The Linear Model of Innovation: The Historical Construction of an Analytical Framework." (2005). Retrieved Oct 12, 2011, from http://www.csiic.ca/PDF/Godin_30.pdf

Peter Drucker on systematic innovation

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