Bringing together knowledge and talent at the University of Chicago.

It has now been eight years since the University of Chicago established a business school campus in London. At the time there were some who questioned our decision to relocate to such a competitive and crowded marketplace.

However when we considered the two factors that were most critical to us – the number of businesses we could collaborate with and the availability of world class student talent – the decision was clear.

Commercialising university research for economic value

The NCUB’s ambition is to stimulate prosperity and growth in the UK through world-class collaboration between companies and the higher education. A typically cited form of collaboration is in commercialising university research to create demonstrable economic value.

The University of Chicago has had particular success in this regard. Our business school is named the Booth School of Business thanks to a business-university collaboration that started a few decades ago and continues to this day. Investment firm Dimensional Fund Advisors was founded on research ideas generated at the University of Chicago. Co-founder, David Booth, commercialised this research and worked with faculty to build his highly successful firm. In 2008, David Booth presented the school with the largest single gift ever made to a business school – and the school was renamed in his honour.  

Although this example is one of continued collaboration, most models of knowledge transfer are unidirectional. Research is conducted at a University and then left to business to make it successful. It makes some sense, as universities have the culture and know-how to design experiments and analyse data whilst large companies have the resources and expertise in commercialising the ideas.

A culture of innovative thinking

However, might even greater value be generated in the economy if we infused similar research thinking within UK companies – especially SMEs?

In my opinion, it would take few resources to promote a culture of innovative thinking or experimentation. At a minimum, it could be about teaching managers to “think” more like researchers, i.e. conceptualise problems, generate hypotheses, and then test them with real world data and sound methods.

My goal is not to turn corporate managers into experts at data-crunching, but to at least have them understand how they can be misled with data or how to think about correlation and causality. Universities will and should continue to retain this “core competency”, but higher education and business collaboration must move beyond the model of one-way knowledge transfer and more towards joint knowledge creation.

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