Rediscovering things I once knew: 4 types of innovation

I am in the process of preparing for an intensive appraisal of several sectoral innovation systems around a University of Technology in South Africa. While reading up on my old notes I discovered something written a long time ago by the late Christopher Freeman in 1987. I thought it a good idea to share this with my readers.

According to Freeman, four types of innovation can be distinguished:

  • everyday, “incremental” technological change in small steps – an improvement in a production process, an improved product, a new service. It is this type of innovation that ensures that the productivity of firms will grow. Yet it does have inherent limits: even continuous improvements were, for instance, unable to prevent the replacement of sailing ships by steam ships;
  • technological breaks due to radical innovations, which alter the course of development of an entire industry – the introduction of the zipper, nuclear technology, or electronic word-processing systems are examples;
  • changes in a technical system that affect more than one industry; one example is the success of plastics;
  • changes in a techno-economic paradigm – new technologies prevail throughout entire societies, new industries emerge, old industries lose significance, conventional organizational patterns are invalidated. This type proceeds from the long-wave theory.

This is an important reminder that I have to design my process to be sensitive to these different kinds of change within technological systems!