Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky is the most cited analyst of the dynamics of the digital economy.

In this TED talk he takes the example of the platform Ushahidi to explain what he calls COGNITIVE SURPLUS – the disruptive force taking down the narrow thinking of scarcity-based economy. In short:

“Cognitive surplus = human generosity + digital tools”

Born form the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, the platform kept Kenyans current on vital information and provided invaluable assistance to those providing relief. Since then the Ushahidi Platform has grown into a large open-source project impacting a number of communities around the world.

It was deployed in the DR Congo to monitor unrest; Al Jazeera used it to track violence in Gaza; It was used to help monitor the 2009 Indian Elections; And to help gather reports globally about the recent Swine Flu outbreak.

Anybody can contribute information. Whether itʼs a simple text message from a SMS-capable phone, a photo or video from a smartphone, or a report submitted online, Ushahidi can gather information from any device with a digital data connection.

Some striking thoughts that will stick when you watch this excellent presentation:

1. The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. Instead of focusing on the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants, we should focus on the gap between doing anthing and doing nothing at all.

2. Motivation Theory: Punishment and contractual rewards go untested against the power of a social norms, as the experiment of the daycare centre astonishingly points out.

3. Free cultures get what they celebrate.