Exaptation, Degeneracy and Innovation
In innovation processes, exaptations are innovation-development processes through which an initial attribution of new functionality to existing artifacts leads to new artifacts and eventually new markets. In this article I focus on the theoretical foundations of these processes, proposing a theoretical framework to analyze them. The essay provides a contribution in the following two directions: • a discussion of the different levels of organization through which exaptations emerge in a market system; • an analysis of the complex links between exaptation and degeneracy (a many-tomany rather than one-to-one map between structure and function). Using this theoretical framework, I focus on the need for an analysis of the consequences of exaptations, arguing that exaptations may contribute to emerging degeneracy, which, in turn, may trigger further exaptations. In market systems one form of degeneracy is the coexistence of many structurally different artifacts providing at least in part the same functionality. I present historical examples that suggest that degeneracy increases the complexity of the system: the attribution of functionality previously provided by existing artifacts to new artifacts potentially able to provide them in a new way is a significant process giving raise to new artifacts and new markets
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