Invasive species, range-expanding species, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic organisms, and emerging pathogens increasingly affect the human environment. We propose a framework that allows comparison of consecutive stages that such novel organisms go through. The framework provides a common terminology for novel organisms, facilitating knowledge exchange among researchers, managers, and policy makers that work on, or have to make effective decisions about, novel organisms. The framework also indicates that knowledge about the causes and consequences of stage transitions for the better studied novel organisms, such as invasive species, can be transferred to more poorly studied ones, such as GMOs and emerging pathogens. Finally, the framework advances understanding of how climate change can affect the establishment, spread, and impacts of novel organisms, and how biodiversity affects, and is affected by, novel organisms.