Generativity Theory and Entrepreneurship

Distinct from the popular medical/psychological definition of generativity, which defines the concept as a need to nurture and guide younger people and contribute to the next generation, the generativity theory in relation to entrepreneurship focuses on the development of technology stemming from the foundations set by previous innovations.
Think of platforms that enable entrepreneurs to create ventures that fit that very specific platform niche. Amazon, for example has millions of independent sellers, there's a whole cohort of software developers exploiting Apple's watch platform. Immediately after Apple first announced that the watch would have physical sensors on it, thousands of sport and medical tech startups flocked to the space. Thus, not only do new platforms create spaces for entrepreneurship, but changes to platform features can also create new spaces for entrepreneurial entry.
Unplanned melody

No one is really in charge of scientific or engineering discoveries that could prompt commercial exploitation at scale. According to Zittrain (2006, p. 1980) generativity refers to “technology’s overall capacity to produce unprompted change driven by large, varied, and uncoordinated audiences”. The keyword here being ‘unprompted’. This suggests that the innovations and outcomes are unplanned and occur without purposeful intent.
Platform niche exploitation in turn become the basis for future innovation impling a layered model where innovation on one layer’s technology has cascading effects on other layers. An example of this is a camera using available hardware combined with a recording device within a single unit to expand its functionality and become a video camera, eventually leading to Instagram and the likes.
According their abstract: "generativity promises unprompted, innovative inputs from uncoordinated audiences, whose participation with heterogeneous technological resources generates diverse outputs and opens new possibilities." Jarvenpaa and Standaert (2018). They go on to explain the importance of open innovation to help generativity along. The promise of generativity theory may not be fully realized because current systems are not sufficiency open to allow it's full effects. Think of it as a lack of knowledge spillovers that inhibits innovation.  
Nambisan (2017) uses the example of when Apple updates its operating system (iOS) to implement new capabilities, and how this paves the way for new app developments and new entrepreneurial opportunities. To expand on their example, when Apple introduced Face ID, the technology opened the doors for businesses to adopt this new security technology to their apps and integrate it into their own sign-in pages to enhance their user experience.
For example, when wearable technology with biometric sensors, such as FitBit and Apple Watch, was introduced, it generated a huge buzz in the health industry. Entrepreneurs and innovators were looking to be the first ones to capitalize on this new technology for their own ventures. Today, we see countless fitness apps that are built around the health tracking technology.

It is worth noting that the generativity theory is continuously expanding and is relatively new compared to many of the classical theories of entrepreneurship. However, many of those classical theories were conceived before the digital age. While many are still relevant, it seems only right that we should look for new theories appropriate to these new times. So while these newer theories may not be as refined, they are still very important and should not be disregarded. We look to future empirical research to validate some of the theory's main propositions.


Nambisan, S. (2017). Digital Entrepreneurship: Toward a Digital Technology Perspective of Entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 41(6), 1029–1055.

Zittrain, Jonathan L. (2006). The Generative Internet. Harvard Law Review, 119(7), 1974-2040.

Jarvenpaa, S., Standaert, W., University of Texas at Austin, & Vlerick Business School. (2018). Digital probes as opening possibilities of generativity. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 19(10), 982-1000.



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