Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-564cf476b6-pp5r9 Total loading time: 0.238 Render date: 2021-06-21T10:59:44.686Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true }

The business model as a generative replicator

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 April 2021

Olivier Brette
University of Lyon, INSA Lyon, CNRS Research Unit TRIANGLE, UMR 5206, F-69100 Villeurbanne, France
Virgile Chassagnon
University Grenoble Alpes, Grenoble INP*, CREG, 38000 Grenoble, France CNRS Research Unit TRIANGLE, UMR, 5206 Lyon, France


This paper proposes a new conceptualization of business model (BM) that rigorously exploits the important insights this notion offers and links them to related views developed in economics and business studies. We develop the foundations of a BM concept consistent with the principles of generalized Darwinism (GD) and with contributions already developed within this framework. Thus, we demonstrate the relevance of GD as a unifying framework for developing the evolutionary theory of firm and industry. We suggest analysing BM as a generative replicator hosted by the firm, which structures interactions between the members of this organization and the social entities of its industrial environment. We argue that GD allows us to clarify the nature and boundaries of the BM concept and to specify its relationships to other key evolutionary concepts, such as organizational routines.

Research Article
Copyright © Millennium Economics Ltd 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Abatecola, G., Breslin, D. and Kask, J. (2020), ‘Do Organizations Really Co-Evolve? Problematizing Co-Evolutionary Change in Management and Organization Studies’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 155: 114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Abatecola, G., Belussi, F., Breslin, D. and Filatotchev, I. (2016), ‘Darwinism, Organizational Evolution and Survival: Key Challenges for Future Research’, Journal of Management and Governance, 20(1): 117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aldrich, H. E., Hodgson, G. M., Hull, D. L., Knudsen, T., Mokyr, J. and Vanberg, V. J. (2008), ‘In Defence of Generalized Darwinism’, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 18(5): 577596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amit, R. and Zott, C. (2001), ‘Value Creation in e-Business’, Strategic Management Journal, 22(6-7): 493520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Amit, R. and Zott, C. (2012), ‘Creating Value through Business Model Innovation’, MIT Sloan Management Review, 53(3): 4149.Google Scholar
Amit, R and Zott, C. (2016), ‘Business Model’, in Augier, M., and Teece, D. J. (eds), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.15, Scholar
Aoki, M. (2001), Toward a Comparative Institutional Analysis, Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aspara, J., Lamberg, J.-A., Laukia, A. and Tikkanen, H. (2013), ‘Corporate Business Model Transformation and Inter-Organizational Cognition: The Case of Nokia’, Long Range Planning, 46(6): 459474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bankvall, L., Dubois, A. and Lind, F. (2017), ‘Conceptualizing Business Models in Industrial Networks’, Industrial Marketing Management, 60(1): 196203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bloch, H. and Finch, J. (2010), ‘Firms and Industries in Evolutionary Economics: Lessons from Marshall, Young, Steindl and Penrose’, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 20(1): 139162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Breslin, D. (2011), ‘Reviewing a Generalized Darwinist Approach to Studying Socio-Economic Change’, International Journal of Management Reviews, 13(2): 218235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brette, O., Lazaric, N. and Vieira da Silva, V. (2017), ‘Habit, Decision-Making and Rationality: Comparing Thorstein Veblen and Early Herbert Simon’, Journal of Economic Issues, 51(3): 567587.Google Scholar
Campbell, D. T. (1974), ‘Evolutionary Epistemology’, in Schlipp, P. A. (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, La Salle: Open Court, pp. 313463.Google Scholar
Carlborg, P., Hasche, N. and Kask, J. (2018), ‘Business Model Transformation: A Dynamic Network Approach’, Paper Presented at the Industrial Marketing and Purchasing Group (IMP) Conference, Marseille, France, September 4–7.Google Scholar
Casadesus-Masanell, R. and Zhu, F. (2013), ‘Business Model Innovation and Competitive Imitation: The Case of Sponsor-Based Business Models’, Strategic Management Journal, 34(4): 464482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chassagnon, V. (2011a), ‘The Law and Economics of the Modern Firm: A New Governance Structure of Power Relationships’, Review of Industrial Economics, 134: 2550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chassagnon, V. (2011b), ‘The Network Firm as a Single Real Entity: Beyond the Aggregate of Distinct Legal Entities’, Journal of Economic Issues, 45(1): 113136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chassagnon, V. (2013), ‘Consummate Cooperation in the Network-Firm: Theoretical Insights and Empirical Findings’, European Management Journal, 32(2): 260274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chassagnon, V. (2014), ‘Toward a Social Ontology of the Firm: Reconstitution, Organizing Entity, Institution, Social Emergence and Power’, Journal of Business Ethics, 124(2): 197208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chassagnon, V. and Haned, N. (2019), ‘The Public and Private Normative Orderings of the Firm. Industrial Pluralism in a History of Organizational Thought Perspective’, Papers in Political Economy, 76: 89116.Google Scholar
Chesbrough, H. (2011), ‘The Case for Open Services Innovation: The Commodity Trap’, California Management Review, 53(3): 520.Google Scholar
Chesbrough, H. and Rosenbloom, R. S. (2002), ‘The Role of the Business Model in Capturing Value from Innovation: Evidence from Xerox Corporation's Technology Spin-off Companies’, Industrial and Corporate Change, 11(3): 529555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dewey, J. (2002 [1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, Amherst: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
Dollimore, D. E. (2014a), ‘Untangling the Conceptual Issues Raised in Reydon and Scholz's Critique of Organizational Ecology and Darwinian Populations’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 44(3): 282315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dollimore, D. E. (2014b), ‘Darwinism and Organizational Ecology: A Reply to Reydon and Scholz’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 44(3): 375382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dopfer, K., Foster, J. and Potts, J. (2004), ‘Micro-Meso-Macro’, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 14(3): 263279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ennen, E. and Richter, A. (2010), ‘The Whole Is More Than the Sum of Its Parts – Or Is It? A Review of the Empirical Literature on Complementarities in Organizations’, Journal of Management, 36(1): 207233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feldman, M. S., Pentland, B. T., D'Adderio, L. and Lazaric, N. (2016), ‘Beyond Routines as Things: Introduction to the Special Issue on Routine Dynamics’, Organization Science, 27(3): 505513.Google Scholar
Foss, N. J. and Christensen, J. F. (2001), ‘A Market-Process Approach to Corporate Coherence’, Managerial and Decision Economics, 22(4–5): 213226.Google Scholar
Foss, N. J. and Saebi, T. (2015), ‘Business Model and Business Model Innovation: Bringing Organization into the Discussions’, in Foss, N. J., and Saebi, T. (eds), Business Model Innovation: The Organizational Dimension, Oxford: Oxford Scholarship Online, pp. 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foss, N. J. and Saebi, T. (2017), ‘Fifteen Years of Research on Business Model Innovation: How Far Have We Come, and Where Should We Go?’, Journal of Management, 43(1): 200227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foss, N. J. and Saebi, T. (2018), ‘Business Models and Business Model Innovation: Between Wicked and Paradigmatic Problems’, Long Range Planning, 51(1): 921.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gao, D., Squazzoni, F. and Deng, X. (2018), ‘The Intertwining Impact of Intraorganizational and Routine Networks on Routine Replication Dynamics: An Agent-Based Model’, Complexity, 2018: 123.Google Scholar
George, G. and Bock, A. J. (2011), ‘The Business Model in Practice and its Implications for Entrepreneurship Research’, Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 35(1): 83111.Google Scholar
Hall, P. A. and Soskice, D. (2001), ‘An introduction to Varieties of Capitalism’, in Hall, P. A. and Soskice, D. (eds.), Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. (2002), ‘Reconstitutive Downward Causation: Social Structure and the Development of Individual Agency’, in Fullbrook, E. (ed.), Intersubjectivity in Economics: Agents and Structure, London: Routledge, pp. 159180.Google Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. (2004), ‘Reclaiming Habit for Institutional Economics’, Journal of Economic Psychology, 25(5): 651660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. (2013), ‘Understanding Organizational Evolution: Toward a Research Agenda using Generalized Darwinism’, Organization Studies, 34(7): 973992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. (2019a), Is There a Future for Heterodox Economics? Institutions, Ideology and a Scientific Community, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. (2019b), Evolutionary Economics: Its Nature and Future, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. and Knudsen, T. (2004), ‘The Firm as an Interactor: Firms as Vehicles for Habits and Routines’, Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 14(3): 281307.Google Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. and Knudsen, T. (2010), Darwin's Conjecture: The Search for General Principles of Social & Economic Evolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Hodgson, G. M. and Stoelhorst, J. W. (2014), ‘Introduction to the Special Issue on the Future of Institutional and Evolutionary Economics’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(4): 513540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hoekzema, J. (2020), ‘Bridging the Gap between Ecologies and Clusters: Towards an Integrative Framework of Routine Interdependence’, European Management Review, 17(2): 559571.Google Scholar
Hull, D. L. (1988), Science as a Process: An Evolutionary Account of the Social and Conceptual Development of Science, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. (2006), ‘The Architecture and Design of Organizational Capabilities’, Industrial and Corporate Change, 15(1): 151171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. (2016), ‘Industry Architecture’, in Augier, M., and Teece, D. J. (eds), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.15, Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. and Kudina, M. G. (2013), ‘How Industry Architectures Shape Firm Success when Expanding in Emerging Economies’, Global Strategy Journal, 3(2): 150170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. and Tae, J. T. (2015), ‘Kingpins, Bottlenecks, and Value Dynamics Along a Sector’, Organization Science, 26(3): 889907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. and Winter, S. G. (2005), ‘The Co-evolution of Capabilities and Transaction Costs: Explaining the Institutional Structure of Production’, Strategic Management Journal, 26(5): 395413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G. and Winter, S. G. (2012), ‘Capabilities: Structure, Agency and Evolution’, Organization Science, 23(5): 13651381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobides, M. G., Knudsen, T. and Augier, M. (2006), ‘Benefiting from Innovation: Value Creation, Value Appropriation and the Role of Industry Architectures’, Research Policy, 35(8): 12001221.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johansson, T. and Kask, J. (2013), ‘On the Promise and Premises of a Darwinian Theory in Research on Business Relationships’, Industrial Marketing Management, 42(3): 306315.Google Scholar
Kask, J., Carlborg, P. and Van, T. P. (2019), ‘Business Models, Ecosystem and Adaptive Fit: The Case of Electric Utilities’, Paper Presented at European Academy of Management (EURAM) Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, June 26–28.Google Scholar
Kremser, W. and Schreyögg, G. (2016), ‘The Dynamics of Interrelated Routines: Introducing the Cluster Level’, Organization Science, 27(3): 698721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lambert, S. C. and Davidson, R. A. (2013), ‘Applications of the Business Model in Studies of Enterprise Success, Innovation and Classification: An Analysis of Empirical Research from 1996 to 2010’, European Management Journal, 31(6): 668681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lawson, T. (2012), ‘Ontology and the Study of Social Reality: Emergence, Organization, Community, Power, Social Relations, Corporations, Artefacts and Money’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 36(2): 345385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Madsen, T. L. and Szyliowicz, D. (2016), ‘Industry Transformation’, in Augier, M., and Teece, D.J. (eds), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.16, Scholar
Magretta, J. (2002), ‘Why Business Models Matter’, Harvard Business Review, 80(5): 8692.Google ScholarPubMed
Marshall, A. (1920 [1890]), Principles of Economics (8th edn), London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Massa, L., Tucci, C. L. and Afuah, A. (2017), ‘A Critical Assessment of Business Model Research’, Academy of Management Annals, 11(1): 73104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maynard Smith, J. M. and Szathmàry, E. (1997), The Major Transitions in Evolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McGrath, R. G. (2010), ‘Business Models: A Discovery Driven Approach’, Long Range Planning, 43(2–3): 247261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Milgrom, P. and Roberts, J. (1995), ‘Complementarities and Fit: Strategy, Structure, and Organizational Change in Manufacturing’, Journal of Accounting and Economics, 19(2–3): 179208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Montgomerie, J. and Roscoe, S. (2013), ‘Owning the Consumer – Getting to the Core of the Apple Business Model’, Accounting Forum, 37(4): 290299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mysterud, I. (2000), ‘Important Evolutionary Book with Relevance for Environmental Problems, Book Review on Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior of Sober and Wilson’, Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 21(6): 581588.Google Scholar
Nelson, R. R. and Winter, S. G. (1982), An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Osterwalder, A. and Pigneur, Y. (2010), Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
Pagano, U. (2012), ‘The Evolution of the American Corporation and Global Organizational Biodiversity’, Seattle University Law Review, 35(4): 12711298.Google Scholar
Pagano, U. and Vatiero, M. (2015), ‘Costly Institutions as Substitutes: Novelty and Limits of the Coasian Approach’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 11(2): 265281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parker, G. and Van Alstyne, M. (2016), ‘Plateform Strategy’, in Augier, M., and Teece, D. J. (eds), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.19, Scholar
Pentland, B., Recker, J. and Wyner, G. (2016), ‘Conceptualizing and Measuring Interdependence between Organizational Routines’, Paper Presented at the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS), Dublin, Ireland, December 11–14.Google Scholar
Reydon, T. A. C. and Scholz, M. (2009), ‘Why Organizational Ecology Is Not a Darwinian Research Program’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 39(3): 408439.Google Scholar
Richardson, G. B. (1972), ‘The Organisation of Industry’, Economic Journal, 82(327): 883896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ritter, T. and Lettl, C. (2018), ‘The Wider Implications of Business-Model Research’, Long Range Planning, 51(1): 18.Google Scholar
Rod, T. (2018), ‘The Claims of Generalized Darwinism’, Philosophy of Management, 17(2): 149167.Google Scholar
Roe, M. J. (1996), ‘Chaos and Evolution in Law and Economics’, Harvard Law Review, 109(3): 641668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schumpeter, J. (1939), Business Cycles. A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical Analysis of the Capitalist Process, New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill Book Company.Google Scholar
Sele, K. and Grand, S. (2016), ‘Unpacking the Dynamics of Ecologies of Routines: Mediators and Their Generative Effects in Routine Interactions’, Organization Science, 27(3): 722738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sober, E. and Wilson, D. S. (1998), Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stoelhorst, J. W. (2008a), ‘The Explanatory Logic and Ontological Commitments of Generalized Darwinism’, Journal of Economic Methodology, 15(4): 343363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stoelhorst, J. W. (2008b), ‘Darwinian Foundations for Evolutionary Economics’, Journal of Economic Issues, 42(2): 415423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stoelhorst, J. W. (2014), ‘The Future of Evolutionary Economics is in a Vision from the Past’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(4): 665682.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stoelhorst, J. W. and Hensgens, R. (2006), ‘On the Application of Darwinism to Economics: From Generalization to Middle-range Theories’, Working Paper, Amsterdam Business School, University of Amsterdam.Google Scholar
Szathmàry, E. and Maynard Smith, J. M. (1995), ‘The Major Evolutionary Transitions’, Nature, 374(6519): 227232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Szulanski, G. and Jensen, R. T. (2006), ‘Presumptive Adaptation and the Effectiveness of Knowledge Transfer’, Strategic Management Journal, 27(10): 937957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Teece, D. J. (2010), ‘Business Models, Business Strategy and Innovation’, Long Range Planning, 43(1): 172194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Teece, D. J. (2016), ‘Business Ecosystem’, in Augier, M., and Teece, D. J. (eds), The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.14, Scholar
Teece, D. J. (2018), ‘Business Models and Dynamic Capabilities’, Long Range Planning, 51(1): 4049.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Teece, D. J., Rumelt, R. P., Dosi, G. and Winter, S. G. (1994), ‘Understanding Corporate Coherence: Theory and Evidence’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 23(1): 130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vatiero, M. (2017), ‘On the (Political) Origin of ‘Corporate Governance’ Species’, Journal of Economic Surveys, 31(2): 393409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Veblen, T. (1898), ‘Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 12(4): 373397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Veblen, T. (1914), The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Vromen, J. (2007), ‘Generalized Darwinism in Evolutionary Economics: The Devil Is in the Details’, Papers on Economics & Evolution 0711, ISSN 1430-4716, Max Planck Institute of Economics, pp. 125.Google Scholar
Wells, P. (2016), ‘Economies of Scale Versus Small Is Beautiful: A Business Model Approach Based on Architecture, Principles and Components in the Beer Industry’, Organization & Environment, 29(1): 3652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Winter, S. G. (2014), ‘The Future of Evolutionary Economics: Can We Break Out of the Beachhead?’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(4): 132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Winter, S. G. and Szulanski, G. (2001), ‘Replication as Strategy’, Organization Science, 12(6): 730743.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wirtz, B. W., Pistoia, A., Ullrich, S. and Göttel, V. (2016), ‘Business Models: Origin, Development, and Future Research Perspectives’, Long Range Planning, 49(1): 3654.Google Scholar
Witt, U. (2014), ‘The Future of Evolutionary Economics: Why the Modalities of Explanation Matter’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 10(4): 645664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhao, Y., von Delft, S., Morgan-Thomas, A. and Buck, T. (2020), ‘The Evolution of Platform Business Models: Exploring Competitive Battles in the World of Platforms’, Long Range Planning, 53(4): 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zott, C., Amit, R. and Massa, L. (2011), ‘The Business Model: Recent Developments and Future Research’, Journal of Management, 37(4): 10191042.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The business model as a generative replicator
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

The business model as a generative replicator
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

The business model as a generative replicator
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *