Abstract This paper analyses recent industrial policy plans made by five leading countries: China, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom and United States. This is done through the analysis of policy documents, using an original framework. Our analysis reveals that these policies have two main motivations. First, the acknowledgement of new technological opportunities and challenges, that allow not only for higher growth rates and competitiveness, but also for addressing ‘societal challenges’ (persistent socio-environmental problems). Second, the growing understanding that, because of the increasing complexity of innovation, private sector efforts alone are not enough, and a higher level of convergence between actors and institutions is needed. We also identify that the policy structures and proposed instruments of these strategies are quite conventional, which contrasts with the rhetoric of these policies. This reveals that the ‘resurgence’ of industrial policies is yet not a return to the ‘old’ policies of the twentieth century, but a new breed, which is much more cautious of interfering with market mechanisms.