If you could have chosen a completely different path for your career, what would you have done? For generations, asking this sort of question was usually an exercise in idle daydreaming. Yet imagine if you lived in a world where you didn't have to choose. Where the alternative career path you never chose could still a part of your life – even though it had nothing to do with what you did for a living.
Several years ago, before the current buzz and attention on Facebook or Twitter, the darling of the fickle interactive marketing community was a virtual world called Second Life. The site allowed users to create a 3D virtual version of themselves and spend time in a completely virtual environment. It was frequently misunderstood by the mainstream, and seen as a waste of time – as this clip from The Office illustrates:
Yet for a core group of users, it offered an entirely new way to interact – without leaving your current life behind. The title of the site predicted the future in a way that few people understood at the time. Today, social media has offered millions of people the chance to pursue their own "second lives" around the passions that they always had. Did you always want to start a brewery? Now you can, and then blog about your experience. Amateur photography? Share your images online and even sell them to stock photo collections to make some money. Whatever your dream job – now you can join a community of others who share that dream and can help you to explore it … all without quitting your day job.
When anyone is free to pursue their second lives – innovation can come from anyone anywhere. The separation between professionals and amateurs is blurred – leading to the rise of new groups like citizen journalists (CNN iReport), advertising co-creators (Doritos Super Bowl Ads) and many crowdsourced communities (Wikipedia, Toyota Ideas For Good). Everyone is an expert at something – and now technology has made that expertise easy to share.
The next big idea to change the world may very well come from the researchers at Google or the scientists at MIT. Or it might come from a stay at home mom writing a blog about physics.