Temple Grandin on Technology Transfer

Temple Grandin is an expert in animal behavior and an advocate for people with autism. I'm fascinated by her work — she has, among other things, designed humane animal slaughter facilities — and in particular her use of her own experiences with autism in her work with animals. 

I'm reading Animals Make us Human right now (you can hear her talk about the book on Fresh Air), and one passage stood out for me1. She's talking about technology transfer in agriculture, but everything she says could go just as well in any technical field:

One of the most important lessons I have learned in theirty-five years of designing and installing equipment is that transferring new knowledge and technology from the university to industry often takes more work than researching or creating the design in the first place. The field of diffusion research has many examples of good technologies that failed at some stage of the transfer to the market.

At this point in reading I stopped to add Diffusion of Innovations to my reading list. Grandin then lists four steps to transfer research to business:

  1. Communicate your results outside the research community.
  2. Make sure your early adopters don't fail.
  3. Supervise all early adopters to ensure faithful adoption of the design.
  4. Don't allow your method or technology to get tied up in patent disputes.

That last is both entertainingly specific and familiar to anyone in Silicon Valley — but Grandin is talking about conveyors for slaughterhouses! She gives examples for each step, and this on communicating within your field also resonates:

It's important to publish your research in peer-reviewed journals so knowedge doesn't get lost. But just publishing in journals isn't enough. Researchers need to publicize their work by giving talks and lecture, writing articles for industry magazines, and creating and maintaining websites. One of the reasons I was able to transfer cattle-handling designs to the industry is that I wrote over a hundred articles on my work for the livestock industry press. Every job I did, I published an article about it. I also gave talks at cattle producer meetings, and I posted my designs on my website where anyone could download them for free. People are often too reluctant to give information away, I find. I discovered that when I gave out lots of information I got more consulting jobs than I could handle. I gave the designs away for free and made a living by charging for custom designs and consulting.

Sounds like a good model to me.

[1] Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life For Animals, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson, pages 202-204.

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