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Collaborative ideation as... Bisociation?

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Anja M
Anja M Sep 20, 2020
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In 1964. Arthur Koestler wrote The Act of Creation , in it introducing a new term and, we can contest, a new vision upon creativity. This has become known as bisociation and is widely used for individual and collective ideation processes. For the start of this session, I will introduce some key aspects of bisociation, as one of the collaborative ideation methods, and would then like to hear examples of it you witnessed or produced in your life and maybe also try a bisociation session in a contribution thread below.

First of all, it is important not to mix bisociation with association or brainstorming – this process relies on the net of the already existing ideas, which means reordering the pieces on the same plane. Bi-, referring to two, would then mean a combination of two unrelated notions that meet on an intersection of their two different planes of usual functioning. This process then entails the development of completely new lines of connection between the notions, which envokes further abstraction, comparison, metaphors, classification, etc.

Koestler develops this creative process throughout his book in multiple different aspects showing its scope. I will point out some core ideas. First, he provides a simple example of bisociation product: a pun. “Two strings of thought tied by an acoustic knot.” And indeed, if we think about it, puns, especially if they are very good, represent not only a reference for some current contextual frame but like a ripple spread to new and new levels of meaning.

Additionally, bisociation is important for and happens in both art and science. “In the discoveries of science, the bisociated matrices merge in a new synthesis, which in turn merges with others on a higher level of the hierarchy; it is a process of successive confluences towards unitary, universal laws. The progress of art does not display this overall ‘river-delta’ pattern. The matrices with which the artist operates are chosen for their sensory qualities and emotive potential […] the explanations of art may be compared to the tracing back of a ripple in the stream to its source in a distant mountain-spring.”

However, of some main reminders Koestler gave alongside his theory, I would stress two:
  1. The ripeness of the creative process. For bisociation to work on high and serious levels, seeing the patterns in something old, rewiring the mechanism for a new purpose, bringing to consciousness implicit axioms and rules… When the time is ripe, this would also mean that paradoxical feeling of something old and something “that has always been there” opening before us as it has been there all along. And yet, discoveries are made both by a strike of a genius and suddenly, to years of meticulous research. But either way: “The more original the discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards.”
  2. Generational amnesia. Usually discoveries as just mentioned, alongside years in that certain framework convey to its users the feeling and acting of, again, “always being there”, hence making us forget how the world looked like before a certain method and discovery took place. “The discoveries of yesterday are the truisms of tomorrow, because we can add to our knowledge but cannot subtract from it. […] The synthesis looks deceptively self-evident, and does not betray the imaginative effort needed to put its component parts together.” So, the process of accepting and distorting a certain viewpoint are endlessly tied together.
But people usually feel discouraged and think such refined processes are for the highly talented and explicitly creative only. As a matter of fact, bisociation is also regularly used in companies, to devise a new product or completely change the form of a previous one. Take a look at this example of it.

So, what are your experiences with bisociation? Do you remember some good examples of it you've encountered recently?

[1]Koestler, Arthur. 1964. The act of creation. London: Hutchinson.

[2]For more on different brainstorming methods, check this session: https://brainstorming.com/sessions/what-are-the-different-brainstorming-methods/54

[3]https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/08/koestler-the-act-of-creation/

[4]https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/05/20/arthur-koestler-creativity-bisociation/

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