Cognitive Surplus-Using Digital Tools to Tap Hidden Resources


By Sven Larsen

What is the largest untapped resource in your organization?

In a recent article inMcKinsey Quarterly entitled “Six ways to make Web 2.0 work“,Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor atNew York University identified “the underused human potential at companies” as “an immense ‘cognitive surplus’ and one that could be tapped by participatory tools.” Shirky’s point was brought home to me by a recent experience within our company.

We received an RFP from a new client, a leading luxury airline. The brief came in to one our Client Strategy Managers and she tasked the appropriate creative staff and Project Managers in order to craft our reply. One of the members of our creative team mentioned the project to Dan Licht, our Chief Creative Officer and he in turn mentioned the project to me. Pretty normal for any organization right? Colleagues sharing information about new projects through informal conversations. But what Dan didn’t know was that I had flown this airline exclusively when I was based in their home region. In fact I was a Platinum flyer on this airline. As a result, I was a great resource for our team working on the project. But if Dan hadn’t offhandedly mentioned the account to me, I might never have discussed the project with our Client Strategy Manager.

As a result, we’re putting new interactive resources in place to capture this kind of information and share it with our entire company. What our final solution will be is still a work in progress but it emphasizes the point that both information and resources need to be shared digitally. We currently use project management tools likeBasecamp andHirise to share project information. But now we’re taking it to the next level and trying to capture individual and institutional memory and skills through interactive tools.

Of course, we’re a young company with a relatively short history. What about companies with longer track records? Or companies that are significantly downsizing? How are they capturing the lost institutional memory that walks out the door whenever a long term employee leaves the organization? How many companies are creating social networks for their alumni or retired workers? Or actively encouraging their employees to blog about their experiences (both positive and negative) in order to share their “human capital” with their co-workers? I well remember working at one of the world’s largest communications companies, an organization so large that their employees didn’t even know what other companies were held under the corporate umbrella. A well designed intranet that offered ways to connect on a personal level with other workers within the organization could have had an enormous impact on that company’s productivity.

Not surprisingly, we’re currently involved in several projects that are looking to service these goals. Companies are building brand centers and other digital tools in order to share resources and promote worker interaction with their brands. I’m sure the next step will be taking the conversation to a more personal level, using intranets,wikis, blogs and private members communities to identify the distinct skills and diverse experiences that make any workforce unique.

What is your company doing to tap its Cognitive Surplus?

Note: This post originally appeared on Zemoga’s corporate blog, From Bogota With Love. To read more about this subject (and other digital media trends) visit



Powered by Facebook Comments

One Response to Cognitive Surplus-Using Digital Tools to Tap Hidden Resources