I'm in the Observer today, as one of the Future 500 "rising stars" to watch for the future. Well, strictly speaking I'm in the "next 400" (under Science and Innovation) for those who didn't get a full biog in the main supplement, but it's still very flattering to be part of a list that includes such impressive names as Geoff Mulgan, Joanna Shields, Richard Reed and Seedcamp's own Ryan Notz. My mum is very proud of me, and I'd like to thank the Academy etc. etc.
Interestingly, inclusion in the Future 500 comes with access to a network website where I can interact with other "ones to watch" online, meet, swap ideas and plot world domination together. The "exclusive network" is an increasingly prevalent phenomenon these days, and something which I'm increasingly being asked about as a consultant. Harnessing the power of a community to take action and solve problems is becoming a key theme in my work. But it also prompts me to ask: in an age of endless networking and connectivity, are these "gated communities" now more valuable than the open networks?
The work I've been doing for the RSA also raised this issue of "openness", which is a particularly thorny issue for a members club intent on fostering innovation. My natural inclination is towards being open and collaborative because I believe that is where new ideas are born, so is joining a members' club a betrayal of those principles? And how does money fit into all this?
There is undeniable value in being part of something that is only for a privileged few. In an age where much information is freely available, people invest huge amounts of time and money on getting the latest, up-to-the-minute, exclusive information on everything from new music to financial news. In fact, being the first person to circulate something new has become so integral to our social self-expression that marketeers are tapping into it to sell chocolate. But in the midst of all these overlapping networks and communities, are new forms of social exclusion being created?
So, how can the internet retain the open, collaborative spirit which made it great, whilst still tapping into the power and possibilities of the esoteric web? And is who you know, and what they can tell you (before it hits the mainstream), actually the new social currency? Are we all cultural insider traders now?
I'll ask the Future 500. And then, if you're good, I might tell you...