The Insider Brain Gain

NEW YORK – Unfortunately, many new technologies and business models make money for investors without creating jobs for workers. That causes unemployment and increases what the blogger Clay Shirky calls “cognitive surplus” – unused brainpower. 

I won’t argue about net job creation here (though I think most innovation fosters it in the long run, so long as the education system prepares people for the new jobs that result). But it is exciting to see a company designed to extract some of the highest-value cognitive surplus around, and to make money both for the company and its – well, they are not exactly workers. Call them members – or even sellers of their own cognitive surplus through an exchange set up for that purpose.

The story starts with yet another recent phenomenon: an increase in corporate transparency, whether companies want it or not. In the old days, most companies sold products and had specified spokespeople; more recently, many have added call centers, creating about 3.5 million jobs in the United States alone, and many more outside it.

But now employees of all kinds, not just those in customer support or public relations, have an online presence. Some mention their employer; most do not. This makes most employers a little nervous. Companies seem to have become fishbowls, their contents visible to customers and strangers alike. You could say that they have a larger “surface area,” composed of employees who interact with outsiders.