Accelerated innovation through repurposing: Exaptation of design and manufacturing in response to COVID-19

Wei Liu, Ahmad Beltagui, Songhe Ye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As the COVID‐19 pandemic spread across the globe in the first quarter of 2020, demand for specialised equipment in hospitals soared. As a result, firms from a variety of sectors repurposed their design and manufacturing to create new products in days. By examining 80 cases of this accelerated innovation, the research investigates how a shared purpose drives change in the innovation process. It applies the lens of exaptation – the discovery of unintended functions for technologies – to explain how product complexity and ecosystem structure affect accelerated innovation in this context. The research extends the application of exaption to manufacturing as well as product design; it identifies a relationship between complexity, exaptation and ecosystems. The research suggests that the ability to exapt design and manufacturing can determine a firm’s ecosystem role. These results lead to implications for theory and for practice, during the response to and recovery from the crisis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-426
Number of pages17
JournalR&D Management
Issue number4
Early online date2 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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