On March 1st in the Ryle Room at the Faculty of Philosophy in Oxford University, we signed the (copious) paperwork and became a limited company, a spinout from Oxford University. It was a fabulous occasion, presided over, as you see, by Dugal the dugong, our company mascot.
The highlight of the ceremony was the amazing Rogue Interrobang cake, baked by a wonderful friend who has been an amazing support throughout.
I wanted to use the opportunity to share some of what I said to mark the occasion.
We are encouraged as disabled people not to let our disability define us, yet those who make such pronouncements almost always do define us in this way. If not by actions and words aimed directly at our disability, then by creating pathways, criteria, obstacles of their own choosing that ignore the ways our disabilities make our lives different, and then offering us opportunities only if we follow those pathways, meet those criteria, jump those obstacles as though they cannot imagine our lives as anything but identical to theirs, AS THOUGH THEIR LIVES WERE SOME KIND OF TEMPLATE FOR HOW THINGS SHOULD BE.
It is hard to think of a moment on the journey that brought me here that was not defined by my disability. Like many disabled people, the institutions that surround me have left me no alternative if I wanted to use my best skills in the best way to make the greatest contribution to building the better future we so desperately need – than to start my own company where I can do so. But like many other disabled people, the life course on which my disability has taken me has left me lacking the resources of time, of money, of energy, of resilience to do that. Without the support of OU Innovation, not to mention their unflagging patience, I could not be here. That is just one of many remarkable good fortunes I have had that so many have not.
But the ability to nurture, and to use, your talent to pursue a better future for us all should not depend on any remarkable good fortune. And that is why I am determined that my disability will also shape every inch of the journey I take from here.
My life is not the same as yours. Not because “we are all different”. My perspective is not the same as yours. My answers are not the same as yours. Damn it my questions barely rub shoulders with yours. Our lives make different shapes; we occupy different spaces. And it is this difference that offers hope.
Rogue Interrobang exists because the world faces a raft of wicked problems – from climate change to AI safety; from food security to human augmentation.
If we are going to survive the 21st century we must solve these problems. Yet for all our determination as a world to solve them we remain determined to do so through the same ways of thinking, the same ways of finding answers, the same ways of investing, the same ways of hiring, the same ways of apportioning research grants, the same ways of allotting credit, the same ways of experimenting that led to the problems in the first place. That is the reason creativity is the most important skill for the century ahead. Because creativity is about difference.
And that is why Rogue Interrobang is so well placed to bring creativity to our businesses, our governments, our seats of learning, our ways of being. The fact we cannot follow your path, that we do not meet your criteria, that we cannot jump your obstacles is precisely what means you need us to solve the problems created by a society run according to your rulebook. You need us to listen to you; you need us to collaborate with you; you need us to teach you; you need us to work alongside you, to advise you, and sometimes to lead you; to test, to stretch, to play, to fail, to learn and to pioneer.
I see Rogue Interrobang as a proof of concept. I started the company because I want to make the world better. I also want to be a disabled person who can make the world better in ways others cannot. I want this company to be so good at what we do, and so successful at making the world better that in 10 years’ time disabled people with great ideas will not need the series of fortunate events that I had. I want to be part of the reason they will find themselves surrounded by institutions that push them forward instead of holding them back.
To everyone in this room and many outside it – whether it has been through patient mentoring, providing invaluable resources, the most valuable of which was self-belief, or simply making me determined to prove you wrong – thank you for helping me bring that vision this far. As for what comes next, as our company slogan puts it:
Together we can solve tomorrow.