Chapter 6 – Exaptation

I had never heard the term exaptation before reading this book. I’m actually still not really comfortable using it casually. I’m comfortable in my nerdliness, but I’m not sure I can or should be allowed to get away with using a word like that in every day parlance. Parlance is maybe another word I should avoid.

Instead of exaptation, I’ll use “Repurpose,” or “Steal.”

Exaptation is when one feature is repurposed for another. The example in the book is about the evolution of bird feathers. Evolutionary biologists suggest that feathers might have evolved for warmth, but that they were repurposed for flight. Or maybe feathers came from scales. Either way, that’s exaptation.

In product development, the concept is the same: something exists for one purpose and is then used for another. An idea that works for one industry is applied to another.

This has been happening forever; Johnson explains how Gutenberg invented the printing press using a screw press technology repurposed from wine-making.

“He took a machine designed to get people drunk and turned it into an engine for mass communication.”

Good artists copy; great artists steal. So it goes with ideas. Steal from one purpose and apply to another. Exapt.