Bisociating Tech Transfer

Arthur Koestler, a thought-leader in creativity and innovation, coined the term bisociation in his book, The Art of Creation. In simple terms, bisociation refers to a mental exercise in which the thinker purposefully collides two seemingly unrelated “things” and observes the creative output.  It is a great tool to generate creative dialogue in complex environments and thus has utility in the technology transfer arena.

University tech transfer is and of itself could be thought of as the output of a bisociation exercise—a nexus between the university and business environments. Since the Bayh Dole Act of 1980, tech transfer offices have been constructing methods to bridge these two often contradictory environments in order to connect new-to-the-world technologies and market applicability.

However, bisociation might be best applied in practice, both individually and as an office exercise. It a method to simultaneously cultivate ideas and relationships and could be integrated into regular diligence processes or as part of team development.

As an example, here are three ways your might choose to structure the exercise with corresponding outputs and value.

Inputs Output
Thing 1 Thing 2
Technology A Technology B Example: Photovoltaics and surgical procedure
  • Creative packaging of licenseable technologies
  • New market avenues
  • Foresight into future multidisciplinary technologies (encourage campus relationships)
Technology Market Example: Nano-spray and Construction
  • Multiple applications of technology
  • Competitive landscaping, identify targets
  • Negotiation and valuation tactics
Technology Product/Service Example: Nanowires and Tshirt
  • Recognize value of technology
  • Spawn new ideas and avenues





As a suggested method, consider the following steps:

1) Break the ice: There is nothing that can generate creativity better than humor, music, and food. If you aren’t funny and a culinary genius, consider YouTube and some pizza.

2) Remove all expectations/metrics from the onset: Creativity is killed by constraint, so be very explicit in setting general bounds, reserving all filtering/judgment until the end of the exercise, and see where it goes.

3) Divide and Conquer: Separate into small groups and rotate through different bisociations. Smaller groups allow everyone to participate and are less intimidating. Individual responses via post-it-notes are always welcome (3M thanks you).

4) Review and reiterate all results: Let the group react creatively to the smaller group activities. You will get laughter, consensus, and more imagination from the group.

5) Move forward: In a way that works with your current diligence process, rate the findings. General courses of action would be:

  • Implement and act
  • Investigate more
  • Bench (for now…noting that the most ridiculous might have extreme benefits downstream

In closing, bisociation is a great exercise to spark productive creativity in your office. The process builds value into existing diligence initiatives and can develop the team. Consider bisociating at one of your upcoming staff meetings!

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