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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Wei Liu, Ahmad Beltagui, Songhe Ye

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-426
Number of pages17
Issue number4
Early online date2 Mar 2021
E-pub ahead of print2 Mar 2021
PublishedSep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


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.

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