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Spandrels and exaptations

October 16, 2009

Brunelleschi or other architects of the renaissance did not set out to design spandrels, those curved triangular areas between the arches supporting cupolas. Even if later on spandrels turned out to have their own utility, they appeared initially only as byproducts of adaptations. The same happens in evolution: not everything adaptive today appeared because it was adaptive. Gould and Lewontin called such accidental byproducts of adaptations — exaptations.

When stuck in a suboptimal peak of an adaptive landscape — whether in business or any other field — look to potential spandrels lurking in your enterprise for help in ratcheting up to the next peak.

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