In yesterday's posting, I critiqued Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer. One of my favorite parts of the book is a quote that comes not from the section of creativity and group interaction (as discussed in yesterday's posting). It comes from the first part of the book in the discussion of individual brain activity. The quote is from neurologist Marcus Raichle about his studies of brain activity when the subjects were not engaged in active tasks (i.e. when they are daydreaming):
"When you don't use a muscle, that muscle isn't doing much," Raichle says. "But when your brain is supposedly doing nothing, it's really doing a tremendous amount."The same can be said for the intangible economy. There is a lot going on even when it looks like nothing is happening.
This below the surface activity of intangibles is what makes understanding and measuring the intangible economy so hard. A successful economic outcome in the industrial era was the production of X widgets. That was later refined to X widgets of a high quality standard of Y. Like a muscle, the economy was either producing or resting. But in the intangible economy, like in the brain, things are happening that don't automatically translate into an immediately visible activity. Relationships are forged or modified. Structural capital is created. Skills and knowledge are created -- including tacit knowledge being shared. All of which will ultimately contribute to economic success.
Lehrer's book tells the story of how psychologists and neurologists are using new tools and techniques to understand the functioning of creativity and the hidden pathways of the brain. Just as the neurologist seek to connect certain brain activity to certain outcomes, we need to connect the functioning of intangible assets to economic results. To do so, we need to develop new tools and techniques (including both macro and micro economic statistics) to better look at the not-so-visible world of the intangible economy.