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Keywords:

  • innovation;
  • exaptation;
  • adaptation;
  • evolution;
  • technology

Biological adaptation assumes the evolution of structures toward better functions. Yet, the roots of adaptive trajectories usually entail subverted—perverted—structures, derived from a different function: what Gould and Vrba called “exaptation.” Generally, this derivation is regarded as contingent or serendipitous, but it also may have regularities, if not rules, in both biological evolution and technological innovation. On the basis of biological examples and examples from the history of technology, the authors demonstrate the centrality of exaptation for a modern understanding of niche, selection, and environment. In some cases, biological understanding illuminates technical exaptation. Thus, the driver of exaptation is not simply chance matching of function and form; it depends on particular, permissive contexts. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Complexity 18: 7–14, 2013