The word " exaptation” originally coined in 1982, a term in the evolutionary biology which refers to a structure showing another function that is not the same as before after entering a new environment during the process of biological evolution. A typical example is the feather of birds: Archaeopteryx can’t fly at the very first; its feathers were originally used to keep warm; and the function of flying was evolved later. Since 1994 scholars in management have also started using the term as an important mechanism for generating innovation, because many products, or artifacts, have been found to have similar functional transitions. For example, the magnetron, which was originally used as a part of the radar, became the core component of the microwave because of an accident, and there were drugs like Viagra, which was used to treat high blood pressure at first, becoming the little blue pill later. Such a reverse innovation mechanism, which creates the market from the product and finds the answer before finding the question, can help the enterprise to break the original way to innovate and become another source of innovation. In terms of the cost of innovation, it is cheaper to extract such potential value than to develop a new product specifically for a new function. After all, the cost innovation is high and exaptation could be another source of innovation. In this background, although the phenomenon already exists before, it fails to become a recognized cognitive and analytical tool in the innovative research because the relevant theory has not yet been mature. No one ever before has collected the concepts of the literature system. So in this paper, by analyzing and summing up predecessors’ research conclusions, we collect existing literature according to four aspects: the connotation and classification of exaptation, the process of exaptation, the influencing factors of exaptation, and the impact effect of exaptation. First of all, the paper combs the related definitions of exaptation, confirming two core concepts of exaptation－" transfer function” and " serendipity”. Second, the paper compiles the process of how an exaptation happens. According to the process of a new discovery gradually forming a product, most of the exapatived products comply with the following order: the enterprise has a series of exaptation pools used to maintain the new finding; then certain activities activate the finding; in the end, the finding is contextualized by exaptation forums and becomes a prototype. Third, this paper introduces the influencing factors of exaptation in detail, sorting out the factors from internal and external of the enterprise that have an impact on the process before, such as user innovation, enterprise culture, and patent scope. Fourth, this paper explores the influence effect of exaptation on the enterprise innovation and strategy, that is, a brand new innovation source and the product strategy called " shadow option”. Exaptation is related to the core issue of the enterprise nowadays, that is, how the enterprise should search for distant opportunities. It provides strategic guidelines for the enterprise. In the future, scholars can conduct further research based on this paper, and the current research has great room for expansion in research methods and research situations. From the perspective of research methods, the study of exaptation needs case and empirical studies. From the perspective of research situations, the study of exaptation needs to put in different industries and different cultural backgrounds.
Exaptation as a Source of Innovation: A Literature Review
Foreign Economics & Management Vol. 41, Issue 01, pp. 16 - 29 (2019) DOI:10.16538/j.cnki.fem.2019.01.002
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Cite this article
Ren Shengce, Gao Tianhao, Xu Hui. Exaptation as a Source of Innovation: A Literature Review[J]. Foreign Economics & Management, 2019, 41(1): 16-29.