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Posted on: Sunday, 04 April 2010 by Rajiv Popat

TEDxCalcutta speaker Sarvesh Tiwari, first introduced me to the idea of Intellectual Surplus. According to Sarvesh its the part of your brain that is left un-used after you have done your days work at your organization. This is the part of your brain or your intellect that individuals often do not pay any attention to.

Given my contention, that no-body works for more than 80% of his time spent at office, the idea of intellectual surplus was something that was not just easy to understand but was actually rather simple to connect to.

If you think about it however, the idea of an intellectual surplus goes beyond utilizing that 20% of time where you are involved with doing nothing in particular.

What your brain is doing for example, when you are seated in a bus, in a subway or driving on your way to office is a classic example of intellectual surplus getting wasted. Pop in a podcast CD or MP3 and chances are that you suddenly started using your commute time to utilize, exercise or stimulate your brain a little more.

Another way to think about this concept is that you are utilizing your intellectual surplus all the time. You are even utilizing it when you are watching the newest Hollywood movie and admiring the special effects or the acting of your favorite actress. You are taxing your brain and the kind of entertainment that you pick also ends up deciding the amount intellectual surplus that you use.

As someone who finds discotheques utterly boring and an excessive dose of television utterly depressing, I've learnt that I am often fairly happy when I am using my intellectual surplus to do or build something meaningful.

Whether it is organizing TEDxCalcutta, talking at a local developer community conference, taking a knowledge sharing session at my organization or doing a blog post for this blog, I tend to fairly happy when my intellectual surplus is getting used to create meaning. For parts where my brain needs to relax I have learnt that I am way better of going on a long walk with friends or having meaningful discussions and arguments with folks I can really connect to.

The real trick is to realize that, as a developer you have this huge part of your brain which is not really getting utilized to do or produce anything meaningful. Once you have realized that sit back, relax and reflect on your day to observe how much of that intellectual surplus is being wasted on nothingness, the idiot box and insanely meaningless activities like daily commute.

Now that you have an idea of the amount intellectual surplus you are squandering away, the next step is to think on what you are going to do about it. Audio books for commute? Language classes during weekends? Take up a hobby that you always wanted to take up? Start a pet project that you always wanted to start? Do a few blog posts each week?

The choices are yours, make them wisely, but then any choice that you make will be better than not even knowing that your intellectual surplus exists and it is getting wasted every single day of your life. Go make a choice and utilize that part of your brain that was often wasted gazing out of the bus window on your way to commute or watching an utterly depressing and boring television program.

I wish you good luck.