Broadening the search for value
The traditional business approach assumes that resources are too specialized to be reused or deployed in new ways. The capacity capture mindset, on the other hand, starts with the assumption that resources are ubiquitous and infinite, because anything can be a resource, and any resource has capacity for value beyond its primary or original purpose.
Capacity capture is about actively identifying resources that are underused, wasted, or discarded and coming up with ways to recapture, use, sell, or otherwise monetize them. Consider how much money real estate companies invest in building and maintaining parking lots in office parks, even though the parking spaces sit empty for 12 or more hours a day. In Europe, a technology platform that lets long-haul truck drivers reserve those spots overnight has created a new income stream for the office parks. At the same time, it gives drivers safer places to sleep than highway shoulders and on-ramps, which protects the drivers, their cargo, and everyone else on the road.
Capacity capture allows organizations to discover new areas of innovation that end up delivering bigger benefits than just resource efficiency. Imagine a factory that actively looks for ways to generate more heat during production because it can make more money by selling or repurposing that heat than it can save by minimizing it. In the Danish town of Kalundborg, for example, 13 different companies in the local industrial park use an elaborate system of pipelines to exchange materials and energy. Sludge, steam, and fly ash that are waste for some become valuable input for others, lowering the cost of energy and raw materials for everyone while reducing the amount and expense of waste disposal.
Using the capacity capture mindset, companies can also find ways to make their products more effective by capturing and using what would otherwise be considered waste. For example, MIT and Stanford scientists have invented a way to expand the capacity of rechargeable batteries by warming them while they’re first charging. A battery manufacturer could theoretically do this by capturing waste heat from the manufacturing process and then selling these higher-capacity batteries at a premium. Kohler, the tile company, is already doing something along these lines by repurposing waste from its tile manufacturing process, including broken tiles, cast iron slag, and leftover glazes, and using them to create a new line of designer tile.
The capacity capture mindset also encourages a deeper examination of experience as a resource. Just look at the Dutch city of Rotterdam, home to Europe’s largest industrial port and, like most of the Netherlands, below sea level. Rotterdam has tapped its underused wealth of institutional expertise in preventing and managing flooding to launch a consulting business. In guiding other coastal cities on how to cope with rising sea waters and worsening storms in the face of climate change, the city collects extra funding for the city budget, which in turn supports further innovations in flood-resistant urban renewal.
Defining the search grid body
The first step to capturing capacity is to understand what capacity is and where it might be found.
Types of assets
- Physical assets are tangible objects of any kind, from facilities and heavy equipment to lighting and office supplies.
- Digital assets include network infrastructure, software, data and metadata, and bandwidth.
- Human assets are people and their behaviors.
Areas of untapped capacity
- Unwanted assets are assets that are created or accumulated unintentionally or incidentally as a side effect or byproduct of another process.
- Excess assets are produced or gathered intentionally but become surplus either because there are too many of them or because the process that produced or gathered them is no longer in use.
- Underused assets are created intentionally and are in use but not to their full potential.
The following framework gives examples of these asset types and capacities and the questions a company might ask itself to discover them:
|Physical||What is created unintentionally as a side effect and then discarded? Examples include trash, offcuts, steam, and heat.||What is produced intentionally but becomes surplus? Examples include products, energy, and materials.||What kinds of existing assets go unused? Examples include space, vehicles, and equipment.|
|Digital||What is collected incidentally and rarely used or analyzed? Examples include sensor readings, metadata, and data exhaust.||What is developed or gathered intentionally but rarely used? Examples include software functionality, infrastructure, and legacy data.||What kinds of existing storage and channels go unused? Examples include computing cycles, bandwidth, and repositories.|
|Human||Where are people or their behaviors seen as undesirable? Examples include former employees and prohibited behaviors.||Where do you gather people or encourage behaviors but then not use them fully? Examples include job roles, training, and passion.||How can you tap into unrecognized skills and capabilities? Examples include surveying employees for unused skills, matching personal goals with needed capabilities, and partnering employees with others.|
The boundaries between these different types of assets can be porous. For example, some physical assets also have characteristics of digital assets, as with autonomous vehicles. Some digital assets, such as servers and storage media, may be thought of as physical assets. What’s more, physical and digital assets often enhance human assets, a convergence that will accelerate as technologies evolve.
As a result, many assets will overlap several categories, and the process of considering where they might fit can generate further possibilities.