Unused tools, spaces and other resources invite exaptation. It's originally intended use seems irrelevant as we ponder what we could do with this opportunity. We also exapt something when we don't have the right tool for the job. This happens for me when I'm traveling light or helping prepare meals in friends' kitchens. I'm not equipped like I am at home in either instance. It becomes necessary to make do with what's available.
To evolve an exaptation, we need to be thinking like the author of 101 Uses for a Dead Cat. We must stop thinking about "what it is" and start thinking about "what it can do". Forms, shapes and physical appearances invite a breed of thinking called functional fixity. We get stuck on the intended use because we can take the thing literally. Functional fluidity explores the differences something can make with its size, weight, location or many other qualities. It no longer seems to us like a thing. It becomes the freedom to make it up as we go along and fodder for our inventiveness.
Technological determinists argue that we get spellbound and used by our tools. We use the default settings as if there's no alternative. We change our lifestyles to accommodate the tool like the explosion of suburbia to accommodate automobiles. We compromise our choices so the technology can be accommodated like the attention paid to handhelds. We serve it rather than getting it to serve us like the rearrangement of furniture around the big screen TV.
When we've gotten psyched for exaptation, we defy those technological determinists. We subdue those tools to serve our purposes, needs and priorities. We break out of the hypnotic spell, enslavement and implicit subjugation. We master the technique after practicing it endlessly. We become more powerful than the technologies and command them to do different work, achieve different results and yield improved benefits.
Here are my other explorations of the seven fractal patterns of innovation in Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson:
- Migrating to the adjacent possible (adjacent possible)
- How do good ideas behave (liquid networks pattern)
- Where hunches go to die (slow hunches)
- Setting up accidental discoveries (serendipity)
- Benefiting from errors (errors)
- Getting psyched for exaptation (exaptation)
- Flourishing on emergent platforms (emergent platforms)