What is Your Company’s “Cognitive Surplus?”

Paul Hebert Driving Productivity, Paul Hebert, Performance, Recognition, Social Media

Brainconnectsmall Sometimes, somebody says something and you just have to say… “that is really cool.”

That happened when I read a post on the blog The Big Picture, authored by Barry L. Ritholtz.  His post made me think about one of the biggest opportunities that companies have to be successful.  But he does it in a way that really makes you think.  The post can be found here – but the gist of it is this…

There is a “cognitive surplus” in the world that has been ignored and underutilized for quite a while – and the new social and participative technologies are starting to unleash it.  He makes the point on his post that Wikipedia represents about 100 million hours of “volunteer” time.  He further says that television watching in the US amounts to about 200 billion hours of time.  That’s billion with a “B.”  Therefore, we have the cognitive surplus in the US alone to create 2,000 Wikipedias.  He mentions that just on a weekend the US spends 100 million hours just watching the ads on TV.

Some quick, unscientific math here – with roughly 150 million working adults in the country with a population of roughly 300 million, that means that about half the 200 billion hours of TV watching comes from working folks.  With that in mind, lets call the number 100 billion hours (I’m sure they watch less than the average child but this is about a concept, not a PhD), therefore each working adult spends 666 hours (scary number, eh?) watching TV each year – or about 10% of their waking time (365 days x 24 hours – 8 hours per day for sleeping.)  I’m sure it’s less than 10%, but I’ve also read that the average American spends 4 hours per day in front of the tube (which is 1440 hours), so I’m probably being generous here.

Now, put that in the context of your organization.  How much cognitive surplus is there in your company?  How much time is spent on things either company sponsored or not, that are sapping the thinking power of your employees – or your channel and consumers for that matter?  I have to believe that companies could do a similar surplus calculation.

Think of it this way.  If 10% is a good number for a cognitive surplus, it would represent 10 employees you didn’t really need in a 100 person company – or roughly $500,000 assuming an entry level employee at a cost of $50,000 per head.  Not a bad number.

Now bounce that against the cost of energizing those same hundred folks with new participative technologies such as Wikis, blogs, social networks and reward programs to get them to engage with these new fangled tools.  Does it justify the cost?  I have to believe the answer is yes.

Of course, none of this will work unless your company puts in place the appropriate award and recognition strategies to encourage and highlight participation in these tools.  You have to change the culture.  Check out some statistics on collaboration within companies on my home blog – the future is all about teams and leveraging the total intelligence of a company.

Without some reason to shift their surplus from one area to another, they won’t make the shift.  But the numbers seem to show that it might just be worth your effort to find a way.