“Each moment is a place you’ve never been.”

Mark Strand


Innovation can embody some seemingly innocuous inspirations. This is also true of social behavior and social dynamics. What I am referring to is that a nonlinear “exaptation” occurs.

In biology ‘exaptation’ are variations on the usual variations of natural selection. Unlike adaptations, which are changes to an organism that respond to environmental conditions, exaptations are novel, unexpected applications of these new traits. For example, wings evolved as an extension of reptile’s webbed forelimbs wherein evolution was in search of a stronger limb, yet, somewhere along the way the ‘newly winged’ discovered its capacity for flight.

“An organ initially constructed for one purpose may be converted into one for a wholly different purpose.”

Charles Darwin

I say all of that to talk about technology. And I don’t mean anything specifically within technology, just technology itself. I read somewhere years ago that the most profound change brought about by technology will not be some new program, AI or even involve some whizbang software, the most profound change will reside in our generic expectations of technology itself. Through its ubiquity the broader shifts will occur in corollary effects that trickle in, and out, and throughout, everyone – the subtle gradual changes that shift the foundation upon what we know and what we think (about Life and ourselves). Living in our technology-created-“memory palaces” (or information spaces always nudging us) will inevitably engineer a social transformation which, in turn, inevitably cascades into the pragmatic functions of life itself – education, healthcare, business, etc. In other words, maybe technology will offer us ‘exaptations’ of which we cannot envision. And maybe worse is that some of these exaptations we cannot envision, will make our lives easier, but worse.

Norbert Weiner, Alvin Toffler and Marshall McLuhan all invested a lot of energy and brain power thinking about this and even telling us in the 1960’s and 1970’s – but I am not sure we actually listened. We fell in love with all the technology things and widgets and embraced, for the most part, how we adapted. But. What they were warning us about were of exaptation.

Which leads me to effectuation.

A causation approach focuses on a predefined goal and then goes about finding the means to attains the goal. An effectuation approach focuses on the means at hand and then have them coalesce with the intent to achieve some outcomes which inevitably achieve some goals (not all predefined).

Effectuation is most often discussed within business and how entrepreneurs shape performance. I bring it up because I fear someone truly thinking about what I am bringing up will jump to designing a goal and pursuing it (causation). I fear it because in a dynamic environment like technology and society, by the time we attain that goal, the goalposts will have moved – most likely dramatically. The truth is that this technology-society battle we are fighting is currently asymmetrical and technology has the leverage. I am not a fan of the word ‘scale’, but the reality is technology is scaling exponentially AND with velocity, faster than human brains can scale, and attempting to address it solely with causation approaches is doomed to fail. The real conclusion anyone should take is to embrace effectuation. Take what exists and use it, and the skills that developed all those things, to materialize real progress in real time and outcomes occur making predefined goals irrelevant. Its kind of like nudging at scale.


As the saying goes, ‘the street always finds new uses for things,’ and with technological ubiquity in most lives, we should be paying attention to ‘the street always finds exaptation while we are not looking and maybe technology will encourage people to fly when they have no wings and, well, we will crash’.

Yeah. There is a lesson lurking in that bad metaphor I just shared.


Written by Bruce