Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cognitive Growth

"Behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity".
Clay Shirkey

I've been thinking a lot about economic growth and where it's going to come from. The standard textbook assumption is that increasing productivity in Ireland will deliver increased growth. And it will, as it has before. But what will drive productivity? Sustainable increases in productivity come from successful innovations. The key word is 'successful'. Lots of innovations are more in the eyes of the beholder than those of any potential users (or investor, for that matter).

Which is where the Cognitive Surplus comes in - as defined by Clay Shirkey. His key insight - that behaviour is motivation filtered through opportunity - means that technological winners are those that provide new opportunities for established human motivations to manifest themselves in new ways. Nobody wanted to be on Facebook ten years ago - it didn't exist - but now nearly 1.4 million unique users are on Facebook in Ireland at the time of writing (their numbers have doubled in the past 12 months so I realise that number will become dated quite quickly). But our motivations ten years ago - for novelty, for friendship, for fun - are still the same.

Shirkey shares some great stories about the power of the Cognitive Surplus to invent and reinvent our lives in a recent RSA lecture - it's well worth downloading the podcast. He's on to something: the next wave of productivity increases will come from the power of the Cognitive Surplus to accommodate our motives in new ways, and to make them manifest through new behaviours. Including our working behaviours - which is where the new sources of productivity increases and economic growth will come from.

If you can wait for the podcast, you can catch him on TED:

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