Artificial Intelligence Innovation #72 #cong17

By Alessandro Prest.

Alessandro presented on the latest trends in artificial intelligence, language development and the rapidly evolving field of image search, especially logo searches where LogoGrab has innovated by listening to customers.

You can browse his presentation from the evening of innovation stories in Ashford Castle.

Innovation and Failure #71 #cong17

By Tom Murphy.

Tom presented in Ashford Castle on Innovation and Failure using the example of his experiences of wood turning.

Browse his presentation below.

Innovating a Better Way to an Inclusive Society…Kindness is Key. #70 #cong17

By Thérèse Kinahan.

I used to call my Dad ‘The Genius’.  He used to be ahead of his time on many aspects of life.  I wonder if he would have enjoyed a weekend in Cong, if he was still with us.

He was recycling back in 1966 and built a rainwater tank at the back of our house.  As a farmer in the rural midlands, his philosophy on life was ‘everyone is my neighbour’ and my ‘life hack’..the code I live by ..Kindness is Key.

Our family is often compared to a mini UN, and I have in-laws who are Italian, Greek American, Irish-American, English, Dublin, Meath…the joke being the Dub is the real foreigner.  I was married to a Liberian and have two bi-racial children, one biologically biracial and one culturally biracial.  We are not a melting pot.  We certainly retain our individuality and create a beautiful mosaic.

In recent times, there is much in the media on racism.  Most racism is due to lack of experience and lack of knowledge.  When I was doing a study some years ago on culturally diverse teams in our health service, I found a difference in understanding between the Irish staff who worked only in Ireland and the staff who had worked outside of the country.  I came on a quote from the writer Hofstede (1991) who said that

‘Cultural Sensitivity is subtle.  Bias is always looming around the corner’

I raise the question, in the light of recent publicity, as to why some people experience more racism than others.  I discussed this with my daughter.  She offered the point about resilience that we as parents build with our children.  There is that great nature/nurture nugget!  We have to move away from the ‘our own’ mindset and also the stereotyping, be it of the refugee or the Dublin Executive standing up stereotyping the Tech Exec in ‘The Country’.  We have different ways of doing things in different places but we should be able to respect that.

Ironically, on the morning of Cong17, my son sent me a link where he was interviewed by RTE.  The message RTE and other media outlets who shared this piece are trying to convey is that there is a rampant racist problem everywhere in sport.  The message my son was trying to convey in his interview was that he had one isolated incident in his childhood and his overall experience was positive.  We had just been chatting on the topic recently and he has had no bad incidents in years, he’s now 21.

Key: How change is managed and openness to change is the key to any strategy

The question can we influence society for the common good to be more inclusive?

Can we create a beautiful mosaic together?

How can we hold our media to be more accountable ..and dare I say accurate?

One last note of interest…we chose a Catholic School in Tullamore for our daughter when she was starting as it was quite international, including travellers.  Yes, there was a Gaeilscoil.  I learned that some people chose the ‘Educate Together’ school (in another town) because Travellers didn’t go there….but ‘oh we want to be open and inclusive’…missing the point, eh?

Thanks Eoin and Class of Cong17.

It Doesn’t Pay to Innovate in Web Design #69 #cong17

By Alastair McDermott.

It doesn’t pay to innovate in web design

Nor in automotive controls.

Innovators disrupt, creating new technologies, creating and destroying entire industries. Innovation has an important place in our world. 

I’d argue that its place is nowhere near traditional business websites.  

Time out for a minute. Let me ask: have you ever driven a Bentley? 

Me neither.

But take a minute to imagine getting behind the wheels of a proper old school Bentley, maybe one built by the original designer, W.O. Bentley sometime in their heyday - the 1920s (just before the company got hit by the Great Depression and had to sell out to Rolls-Royce in 1931). 

You might be imagining one of the large racing Bentleys, maybe the famous “4 1/2 Litre” – one of the last true Bentleys ever built - perhaps shining in British racing green. 

Of course you would need to be careful driving one of these, since in 2017 it would be worth well over $1 million! You’d probably be driving very carefully if you take it out on the road, you might even be a bit nervous and hit the brakes earlier than usual. 

The problem with that of course is that in an emergency you’d probably hit the accelerator, not the brakes. Muscle memory and years of instinctive driving modern cars would make you instinctively hit the middle foot pedal, looking for the brake. But in this Bentley the right hand pedal is the brake. The middle one is actually the accelerator – the opposite of modern cars. 

That could be a costly mistake. 

Never mind driving, most people today probably couldn’t even start a Model T Ford without specific training. And driving it - well consider that reverse is selected with one of the foot pedals, and hitting the clutch actually engages the clutch (rather than disengaging it) – again opposite to what we expect. 

The automobile industry started to standardise controls in the 1920s - the modern pedal layout was introduced by Cadillac in 1916. 

But many production runs of older designs like the Model T didn’t end production until 1927 so it took decades for them to get standardised across the entire industry.

And people died because of the lack of standard controls.

In web design, the user interface tends not to be quite so life-and-death (although it’s certainly possible that there are instances where web applications are used in medical environment). 

For the most part, website design probably won’t cost you your life. But for business owners, it might cost you your livelihood.

I mentioned in last years’ post for Congregation that there are a lot of patterns in web design. These patterns are to web design what standardised controls are to the car industry. 

You probably know most of them already - the website logo is on the top left, and if you click it you’re taken to the homepage. There’s a top level navigation menu near the top of the page. If you scroll to the bottom, you should see contact and legal information in the page footer. If you’re on mobile, clicking an icon made up of 3 horizontal lines (known as a “hamburger” icon) will bring up a navigation menu.

You might be so familiar with using websites that you haven’t ever thought about these things, but you intuitively know them to be the case on most sites. 

What we usually mean by intuitive user interface is actually what we've already experienced and learned how to use.

Of course there are some user interfaces that are considered completely intuitive, for example there are a lot of videos online of toddlers who are able to use iPads (which may not seem like a big deal now but this was incredible when they first came out as technology has a reputation of being somewhat user unfriendly). The legacy of Steve Jobs.

But for small to medium business websites, staying clear of innovative new design and following the road more trodden is the shrewd business decision.

Website visitors are prospective customers, and they expect that brake pedal to be on the left. They don’t care about your desire to be different from everyone else, your personal preference for the logo to be on the right, or your dislike for website footers. 

What your visitors care about is what they want to do. They want to find your opening hours, or your phone number, or check if you stock a particular product.

Get out of the way and let them do it. 

Do not innovate in your user interface. There are plenty of other places you can innovate - in your business model, in your supply chain, in your R&D lab. But for the sake of your user’s experience on your website, and ultimately for the sake of the sales that will result from that, I urge you to follow the beaten path in your website design.

Recommended reading: “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.

Married to Innovation #68 #cong17

By Paul Killoran.

When Jacqueline accepted my marriage proposal on the 5th of January 2016; little did she know what she was in for. Little did she know how much I love blank canvases. Little did she know how much I love solving from first principles. Little did she know how much I obsess over user experience. But it didn’t take her long to find out.

This is the story of how we designed our wedding.

For years I heard people talk about how stressful it was to plan a wedding. I used to look at them with slight bemusement wondering how could it be so stressful? After all, most weddings are usually the same. They all follow the same formula. Choose a dress, choose a photographer, choose a cake, choose a few other items and away you go.

If running a business over the last 10 years has taught me anything, it’s that we love formulas. Formulas equate to efficient processes that allow us to drive maximum profitability. An inefficient process will have lots of variability and the most profitable businesses tend to have streamlined processes with very limited variability. In other words, profitability usually means limiting the variability.

In lay terms, variability means uniqueness. In wedding terms, variability means the difference between one wedding and another.

At the start of our wedding planning experience, we visited nearly every wedding venue in Connaught. We very much enjoyed all of the complimentary tea and scones, as they attempted to woo us with the same old sales pitch; “We will deliver a unique experience to you and all your guests.”

At one such meeting I asked the wedding planner if they’d allow us to hire a famous Galway pizza company to serve their legendary wood-fired pizza during the band’s break (instead of the usual cocktail sausages and chips). My request was met with horror as it was deemed fish’n’chips and mini-burgers were suitably generous. I began to realise that my appetite for creativity and uniqueness was far more pronounced than many were expecting.

At another hotel I asked, “What kind of things can we do to give our guests a unique experience?” My request was met with delight and the manager buoyantly responded by saying, “We could serve craft beers as your guests arrive?” I then asked, “How much would that cost?” And I was told, “Seven euro a bottle.” I quickly learnt that any deviation from the norm was going to be expensive and that creativity and uniqueness is not really encouraged (unless you’ve got deep pockets).

Following these encounters, Jacqueline and I came to the conclusion that we either follow the formula (with no deviation) or we abandon the formula completely and devise our own. We agreed that trying to add deviation and creativity to the formula was going work out inefficient and expensive. We realised that trying to make our wedding unique within the confines of the traditional formula was going to cost us a lot of money, without delivering the impact we wanted.

Most couples will tell you that they want their wedding to be unique. They want it to be special. They want it to be a day that they and their guests will never forget. (At least that’s what’s written in the marketing brochures). 

Having attended more than my fair share of wedding fairs, I’ve seen plenty of examples of how you can splurge on a “never to be forgotten” wedding cake, wedding car or wedding dress. And if you’re really feeling adventurous you can hire a hypnotist, a comedian or even a snake charmer for your after-dinner entertainment.

I’ve spent over a decade developing software products and in that time, I’ve learnt one thing; if you want to be unique then you have to abandon the formula. You have to be 10X better. You have to be brave. You have to think differently.

The irony of ironies is that most couples are chasing the unique-yet-safe oxymoron. Given the choice between risking their big day and being truly unique; most will choose to play it safe and sprinkle hundreds and thousands on their safe structured fairy-tale. Watch an episode of “Don’t Tell the Bride” and you’ll see what I mean.

After much soul searching, we decided that we wanted to do something different. We wanted to create an experience that people would never forget. We wanted to create something that would represent us both and be a symbol of the life we were creating together.

It was finally time to abandon the formula. :)

Back in October 2013, I listened to Elon Musk make his keynote address at the Dublin Web Summit. During his talk, he described a method of going back to first principles when trying to solve a problem. Inspired by his words, I elected to do the same with our wedding and I asked Jacqueline the question, “What are the most fundamental components of a wedding?”

We agreed that at its most basic a wedding is a ceremony where two people make a commitment to each other for the rest of their lives. After that, everything else is optional. 

We also acknowledged that it is customary for guests to be invited to the ceremony and that a celebratory banquet be hosted afterwards. And for us we agreed that it was really important that our guests enjoy really good local food, be encouraged to have fun and be immersed in an experience that they would never forget.

Complete with our terms of reference, we were ready to begin.

Jacqueline is from a rural townland in north Co. Galway between Tuam and Dunmore called Brownsgrove. From the outset, she was very specific that she wanted us to get married in her local family church. The place she was baptised, made her communion and made her confirmation, so it didn’t take us long to settle on the ceremony location.

To my dismay, the options for hosting a wedding reception around Tuam were limited and I hated the idea of a long commute between the ceremony and the reception (as I believe it disrupts the flow excitement and energy among the guests). In an ideal world, I wanted the wedding reception to be within walking distance of the ceremony.

Destination weddings abroad are becoming more and more popular these days. Obvious advantages include the weather but there’s also a subtle advantage in that the couple get to design the entire experience for their guests; from the moment they get off the plane until the moment they go home. Without a shadow of a doubt I wanted that same control. And so, the natural question emerged; “Could we create a destination wedding in Brownsgrove, Co. Galway?”

My mind began to race. If we could control their experience then we could design a very specific experience complete with moments of unexpected delight. For me it was the ultimate product design challenge. But first we had to figure out how to detach our guests from normality. We had to remove their reliance on their cars and the mobility that they offered.

We invited all our guests to a welcome reception at a local hotel on the morning of the wedding. This gave our guests the opportunity to abandon their car, check-in to the hotel and grab a light breakfast snack. It also gave me (the groom) the opportunity to greet everyone at the entrance of the hotel, make that genuine human connection and welcome them to our wedding day. First impressions count.

If your house is anything like mine I always find that I’m in a panic rushing to a wedding (usually as a result of late running appointments or last-minute wardrobe malfunctions) and invariably I end up arriving with minutes to spare before the ceremony. There’s always panic and I rarely have time for breakfast. And as a consequence, I end up suppressing belly rumblings throughout the ceremony (and let’s not even discuss my torture if the bride happens to be 30 minutes late). Then by the time the canapés arrive 2 hours later, I hoover them up, desperate to stabilise my hunger anxiety.

The welcome reception gave our guests a buffer zone to absorb the rushing around and panic. It also gave them the opportunity to enjoy a scone and a cup of tea before the ceremony. A chance to relax maybe. And then when it was time to depart, all of our guests made their way outside as they awaited the departure of the wedding bus.

And then it arrived. A beautiful, green, double-deck Routemaster pulled into the hotel carpark only to be met with shrieks of joy and excitement. For many it was the first time they’d seen an old Routemaster in operation in over 30 years. They clambered on, up the stairs, clutching scones and tea and made their perch for the journey ahead. 

All aboard! It was time to go. It was time to get married. 

We chugged along down the old country road making our short 10-minute journey to St. Patrick’s Church, Cortoon.  We arrived promptly at quarter to one and the little old church glistened in the midday sun. People scuttled down the spiral staircase at the back of the bus with great enthusiasm and ventured towards the church door. The sound of chatter filled the air. The wedding was about to begin.

Five past one, the bride’s car arrived. Jacqueline climbed out of the car with her veil blowing in the wind. There was time for a few short photographs with her mother and father before the soloist gave the nod and it was time for her to walk down the aisle. I stood at the other end of the aisle, standing tall, standing proud, facing forward, awaiting my bride.

We had a beautiful ceremony, exactly what we wanted. Jacqueline’s sister sang for the congregation at the end of communion; it was her first time to sing in public and she nailed the performance. And then my old college friend gave us a pause for thought during the communion reflection as he recited a lesson in philosophy, life and beer.

Even though we wanted to create a unique wedding experience for all our guests; we didn’t want to tamper with the ceremony itself. I guess the lesson there is that not everything needs to be disrupted.

After the ceremony, we greeted our guests at the back of the church in the afternoon sunshine. Hugs, kisses and smiles were all in abundance. Cortoon is the quintessential rural Irish village. No Irish village would is complete without its three mandatory permanent fixtures; a church, a pub and a statue of Mary. 

The Cortoon Inn, Mickie’s little pub beside the church sells pints of Guinness, cans of cider, packets of rashers, tubs of butter and mansize tissues. It didn’t take long for our guests to find the pub and within minutes the entire congregation were sandwiched into the pub and the place was packed to the rafters. Tea and sandwiches were available in the lounge for those with empty bellies.

Jacqueline and I took advantage of the Cortoon Inn distraction and jumped into my friend’s vintage Porsche 911 and sped away to have our wedding photos taken before anyone noticed us missing. 30 minutes later we arrived back just as people were getting ready to get back on the bus. It was time to depart for the wedding reception.

Jacqueline grew up on a farm about 5 minutes away from Cortoon. After we decided we want to get married in Cortoon Church we started looking for possible reception sites within a stone’s throw of the church on Jacqueline’s family farm. And sure enough, we found one. A beautiful rolling green hill with views that extended for miles around.

And there we decided to pitch a tent; but not just any tent. There we pitched six Nordic Kata Tepee tents in a huddle at the top of the hill. And around it we built a village, a little music festival if you will. Jacqueline and I both love music festivals and we wanted to bring that experience to our friends and family, many of whom have never been to one. 

And as the Routemaster climbed up the hill on the country lane our wide-eyed guests saw for the first time the wedding festival that was awaiting them.

The carefully manicured bark on the ground led you on a pathway into the field to where you were greeted by a “Welcome to our Beginning” entrance arch. As you walked under the arch you were met by a big digger bucket filled with ice, beer and soft drinks.

To your left was a tiny caravan converted into an old man’s pub (also known as The Shebeen) where there was plentiful supply of the creamiest pints of Guinness I’ve ever seen. To your right was another little pub, this one modelled on an old red hayshed which was serving a selection of gin and tonic. And in the middle, was an open fire burning chunks of timber and sods of turf.

Using hay bales, festoon bulbs and a heavy machinery trailer we crafted the Hay Stage. A stage that played host to the Cozy Cartel; a group of four Galway musicians that I found busking on Shop Street one Saturday afternoon.

Opposite the Hay Stage was the Garden and the Sweet Trailer. The Garden was seating enclosure made from timber pallets that hosted a characterurist that spent the afternoon sketching people. The Sweet Trailer was a cattle trailer that harboured an old dresser full of every kind of sweet you can imagine.

And beside The Shebeen was Diarmuid Kelly from Kelly Oysters in Kinvara, carving open some of Galway Bay’s little treasures. Nothing quite washes down a pint of Guinness like a couple of wild oysters.

The crowd arrived, drinks were poured and they were merry. 

Shortly before six o’clock it was time to move inside the tepees so that the main banquet could begin. The space inside was cosy; decorated with nothing more than fairy lights, pillar candles and floral garlands. The mix of small tables created an intimate atmosphere and encouraged discussion amongst our guests.

We devoured a spectacular meal that was prepared and cooked on-site by Green Olive; a fabulous Galway based catering company that use nothing but the finest of local ingredients. And then after dinner, we sat back and enjoyed the speeches.

And then to our surprise our wedding took on a life of its own and to our delight we were no longer in control. You see we had booked five trad musicians to come and play at the end of the night. Their set wasn’t due to start until two in the morning; but they decided to show up early at ten o’clock to warm up their instruments. The sound of trad music spread quickly throughout the tepees and it didn’t long for a full-on trad session to break out in the Hay Shed outside.

Inspired by this breakaway group, somebody else appeared with a guitar in The Shebeen and started what can only be called the first Sea Shanty jamming session in the West of Ireland. Meanwhile Jacqueline and I were inside in the tepees on the main dance floor busting our moves to Paolo Nutini as we rocked the floor for our first dance. 

And that moment we knew we’d succeeded. We’re created an environment where our guests and our musicians had taken over our wedding. We were embracing the madness. The lunatics were running the asylum and the wedding was no longer something we controlled. It was now an experience that was being perpetuated by our guests.

We partied long into the night. After the band, we had a DJ. After the DJ, we had a trad band. There was plenty of Guinness poured and between all the guests that day we polished off over seventeen litres of Hendricks Gin. And at six o’clock in the morning as the sun was about to come up, one of the trad lads looked and me and said, “I think it’s time.” And I look at him and I replied, “I think you’re right.”

We bundled our guests into taxis that ferried them back to the hotel. The trad band slept on couches in Jacqueline’s home house and we cooked them a full Irish breakfast the following morning. We all woke up with pounding headaches and plenty of stories.

That evening I went back up to the tepees and thought about everything that we’d created in the hours gone before. Only then did it dawn on me that within 24 hours everything that we had constructed was going to be dissembled again. That the sheep that occupied this field a week ago were going to return to their home in a week’s time completely oblivious to our wedding. That everything that we had created was going to disappear. That life goes on.

And while that thought made me sad for a moment, my thoughts quickly changed when I realised something else: Only those people that attended our wedding will ever know exactly how it felt. People will see photographs and videos, but only those that shared the experience with us will know how it felt.

We created an experience that people will never forget. Sure, it was a lot of work but it provided us with huge creative rewards when we put it all together and watched it come to life. We were brave. We broke the mould. We created something unique.

At the end of the day, a wedding is the union of two people. On Friday, the 8th of September 2017 I married Jacqueline Nestor and I’m so proud that our first act as husband and wife was to create something so special.

It’s true. We’re both married to innovation.

Language is the Mother of Innovation #67 #cong17

By Tracy Keogh.

I didn’t do a piece for Congregation last year because I didn’t have the words. When you’re building, when you’re passionate, when it’s going on instinct, it is just hard to have the words. It happens for me with gender equality. I remember when I found the language of equality and the feeling of relief with words like unconscious bias allowing me to properly express the frustration I felt when I came across actions I just knew were unfair, and the other person couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong.

I want to make the case for placeholder words, particularly in communities that want innovation to penetrate their culture. That is, communities, that want to empower individuals to make change in their environment. I also want to suggest a framework that will give people the tools to create and use those new words.

Towns are the physical representation of the communities in that area. Like the Broken Windows Theory, where small acts of vandalism can affect crime rates, the future of what our towns look like with hugely impact their communities. It is critical, where rapidly changing business models are impacting towns, that we equip those communities with the tools to be resilient and adapt to change.

By way of an example: I spoke to a lady (lets call her Jane) who owned a really quirky shoe shop in a city. Like most shoe shops, it is tough, labour heavy work. Last year, 80% of her sales came from abroad. She doesn’t need the high street store, so she will move out. What will the community do to replace it? In this case, a coworking space, that reflects her new challenges of e-commerce, loneliness of an online business etc is a perfect replacement.

Do you remember those tests in school? They tested our English. The tests had placeholders, ‘Jackie goes ____ the store to ____ an apple’ and you had to find, understand and input the words in order to complete a coherent sentence so that it, and you, could be understood. The word coworking is currently going in those placeholders. It is being used as a way for community leaders to express that they want to succeed and thrive, but they don’t mean coworking, in the traditional sense, per say.

At a recent Future of Towns event, one speaker said that in the UK they worry when vacancy rates hit over 14%. Some of our first floor properties have 80% vacancy rates. A coworking space might move the needle a couple of percent, but what after that?

Words power innovation. ‘Coworking’ is credited to Brad Neuber and only took wind around 2005. We need more words, we need to create and curate the new language of our towns.

We need to understand what our communities mean, beyond what they say. There’s a danger in using cookie cutter models everywhere. Not just because it does not work, but because it will negatively affect the people behind it, our community leaders who are willing to dream and do.

I’ve always had a placeholder word for ideas. It’s Iggy. I use Iggy when I know there’s a solution to a problem but I just can’t verbalise it yet. Want to try something? Let’s call it Iggy. Instead of saying ‘We want Jane to stay, thrive and use that space as a shoe shop’ we say ‘We want Jane to stay, thrive and use that space as an *Iggy*.

Think of Iggy as your shield. You say the word, and you get the pack (and all of the responsibility that comes with that). Your Iggy pack will need:

1 A coalition of the willing who want to do *something*: Simply a bunch of people from a diverse range of backgrounds that you call, update and bounce ideas off. No one gets preference voting rights, user insights trump all.

2 A budget: You’ll need a budget that you do not need to explain/justify. You can do a lot with 500.

3 Research Pack: Examples of other towns, and some examples of how some spaces like coworking spaces or mens sheds began to turn up in our towns, what worked and what didn’t.

The Process:

Acquire insights: Bring in all of your basic lean canvas/business model canvas/design thinking knowledge and learn to talk to your community in a different way. Who are they? What do they do? What are their dreams, hopes and challenges? With this you create your personas. EG in Jane’s case, you may find loneliness as a key challenge for her since she moved home to work online.

Build, quickly: Paint stuff, break stuff, build stuff, rip down stuff, just do. You build because that’s how you test, but you also build because that’s a core part in owning your creation. EG in Jane’s case, buy a desk from IKEA, ask her to spend a few days working from there, with you.

Iterate to completion and name it: Keep understanding the user, and build. EG in Jane’s case name it coworking and build it out past Jane.

Move next door and do it again but bigger, better, quicker :)

Words that fuel ambiguity and creativity will be instrumental in adapting to change. Spaces, when created, should be scaled into areas they apply to only. True creativity and innovation isn’t in the cowkorking spaces. It’s in creating the next word. A mens shed, a coworking space, a donut shop.

I’m over here, if you’re up for testing!

Hat Tip to Des, for spending quite some time helping me to find the words.

Innovation Can Be Ugly #66 #cong17

By Billy Kennedy.

We like to think of innovation as a planned methodical process in a pristine environment with positive aims like business or societal enrichment.  Something that helps to push humanity forward with well meaning teams.  We mentally have pictures of whiteboards and people in white lab jackets against backdrops of a better future.

However, like it or not, a lot of the great innovations have come from war.  Even fear of war has sparked some of the biggest breakthrough at break neck speed and with a worrying precision considering their intended use.

The list is sizeable and some of the ones attributed to military over numerous wars (note some were invented earlier but only widely deployed after military use) includes:

  • Canned Food
  • Plastic Surgery
  • Sanitary Nakins
  • Duck Tape
  • Microwave Ovens
  • Digital Photography
  • The Internet
  • Sun Lamps
  • Tea Bags
  • Zips
  • Stainless Steel
  • Super Glue
  • GPS
  • Freeze Drying
  • Ballpoint Pen
  • Jet Engines
  • Dyno Powered Torch
  • Industrial Fertilizer
  • Margarine 
  • The Slinky

The list goes on and they all have fascinating stories of accidental, ancillary and purposeful development.  (The links below give a flavor of those stories) Many were just widely deployed during war before being embraced by wider society.

It not just war where innovation can have an uncomfortable origin.  Many of the developments on the internet from streaming and eCommerce were pioneered by the unsavory porn industry.  The drugs trade has propelled bitcoin, blockchain and the deep web.

The reality is that innovation happens all the time but during a time of crisis, fear or possible great enrichment/greed we deploy enormous resources that propel development.  Much of the time these innovations are focused on creating as much carnage as possible and it is only later in peaceful times that a positive societal use is found for them.

Like most things in life progress can be slow until there is a ‘burning platform’ or a very compelling rationale.   In war this can be fear, hatred, greed (or simply psychopathic tendencies) but these are intensely human emotions.  These are powerful forces. Scarcity, pressure and trauma can help us achieve some of our best breakthroughs.  

In my 70th year I often hope for a future depicted in Star Trek when humanity works for humanity sake but see little immediate stop to conflict.  In reality mankind has always had a dark side and as Joan Mulvihill discusses in her post this dark side can be where true creativity and innovation lies.

To wish for a pristine dream like innovation process is to divorce human emotion from the equation and like it or not these positive and negative emotions are what makes us special and had led our race to succeed where other species have faltered.

After pondering my submission for #cong17 I now try to see the endless conflict documented on our screens as possibly having a silver lining, knowing this is small comfort for those unfortunately enough to be caught up in it.

I also take comfort that weapons and technoogy design to eradicate other fellow human beings can be reformed into positive forces….I just hope those who innovated them can also be reformed 


Why Followers are More Successful than Innovators #65 #cong17

By Gavin Duffy.

Despite the somewhat negative connotation of the talk title, the first thing I'll say is that Innovation is Good.  It is good for society and it is good for the individual, even if the individual does not benefit materially as well as they should or could.  Innovation is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom.  It's our ability to create, to come up with new tools and new ways of doing things, that has made us the highest form of biological evolution on this planet.  #cong17

Despite the enormous advances in computing power and the rise of Artificial Intelligence, technology cannot nor I believe ever will be able to generate original thought and ideas.

As the owner manager of a technology solution business which relies on being innovative to separate ourselves from the competition, I am acutely aware of the need to continually innovate and improve.  However our greatest innovations have also been our greatest failures from a commercial point of view, whilst our greatest successes have come from simply tweaking things that have essentially been invented by others. Some people say being first is not always best.  I would go so far as to say that it is rarely best.  First mover successes are the exception.

Lou Reed was a musical innovator but it took 10 to 15 years for his genius to be recognised and he never truely benefited financially from his work.  It has been argued that David Bowe essentially copied the new genre, improved on it and made it his own.

Facebook did not invent the social network.  It was preceeded by Bebo and MySpace yet it was Facebook that went on the conquer the world.

Google did not invent the web browser and search engine.  They were preceded by Netscape and Yahoo who failed to take advantage of first mover advantage.

This list would lead one to believe that the term first mover advantage is a misnomer. It appears to be a distinct disadvantage.

Henry Ford said;

"I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work.”

Failure is an intrinsic part of innovation.  Success comes from learning from that failure be it your own or that of others, and then acting upon it.

Innovation is Tough #64 #cong17

By Paul O’Mahony

Click below to hear Paul's thoughts on Innovation.

Is Innovation good for humanity? #63 #cong17

By Emma Commerford and Lorraine Ni Fhloinn.

The word innovation is attached to all new products as a descriptor. If you do not include the word in marketing collateral for your new product you will be admonished by a cadre of experts and barraged with an arsenal of vague and confusing roadmaps for “innovation”.

Many “innovative” products are lauded as DISRUPTERS. The aim is to smash up existing delivery methods, destroy them completely, and replace them with some new “innovative” service.  For example Uber was lauded as the darling of tech disruption but in reality it has destroyed the yellow cab industry in New York City.                          

Is this a good thing?

Initially it appears to be good for consumers. A convenient car service, which you can manage from a smartphone. But is UBER really all that different from hailing a yellow cab, or calling a private car using your actual human voice?

No, it isn’t.

Consumers always had an easy and fast way to get private transportation from A to B. Providing consumers with a new way to call a car (via an app) has resulted in the destruction of family businesses and jobs. These jobs have been replaced by tenuous positions at a company that prides itself on DISRUPTING, is known to have a toxic and predatory work environment, and only cares about share prices. In essence many small businesses have been blown out of the water by this behemoth, and the behemoth has taken their labor and capitalised on it, while providing no job security, benefits, and offering no loyalty of any kind. This destruction is lauded as innovative and exciting but it just another hostile takeover of an industry by one faceless corporation who cares little for consumers or employees.

Maybe you have no time for Marxist theories of capitalism or indeed depressing rants of any kind as you are too busy coming up with fantastic, unique, exciting, state-of-the-art products or services?  Mostly ones that solve global problems and will make the world a better place (take that you dreary Leninites). So far so ground breaking, as luck would have it the entire world and their cup-cake baking Mammies are launching start-ups.  So in order to jump on the entrepreneurial gravy train all you have to do is the following:

Work all morning, right through noon and for most of the night trying to do one of the following:

a. design, develop, test and debug software or pay / exploit someone in a developing country to do it for you (spoiler alert you will be old and grey and spoon fed by robots long before you have even communicated your high level requirements to them)

b. design, prototype, test and “tweak” a physical product for approximately 3 years before you realise that the cost of making the moulds is akin to the GDP of the country where your developers currently reside (see previous brilliant idea).

c.  Do whatever people do who invent medical devices which to the best of the authors knowledge involves wrapping miniature bicycle parts in a balloon prior to insertion into an actual person

In your spare time you will be doing all of the following:

Constantly self publicising on a multitude of online platforms involving:

  • writing blogs for no material gain
  • making vlogs for no material gain - the justification and term used is to give yourself exposure – in a world of Harvey Weinsteins what does that even mean?
  • Harassing friends and family to like all of the above
  • Making predictions on future earnings that are nonsensical but necessitate hours pouring over excel spreadsheets like a numeric Mystic Meg
  • Committing to hiring 10 people in 3 years or 8 people in 2 years (insert appropriate number and timeline) to get government funding, proving that you will contribute to the reduction of the figures on the live register thereby making them look good.  In actual fact you are constantly being urged to seek out and hire experts in Marketing, Sales, Finance etc.  the last time I was in my local DSP office the number of CFOs and executive directors hanging around looking for a CE scheme was relatively low.
  • Making sure your new company has a tone, a brand, an amazing functioning website and actual sales before you are deemed worthy of funding or support - Innovation Catch 22 alert You Will Only Ever Get THE MONEY Once You Dont Need It
  • Being a complete expert on every area of running a business although you have no training, background or experience in any of these areas
  • Juggling the paranoic “dont tell anyone your idea, they will immediately steal it and make milliions” with the “put yourself out there or it will never happen”, usually after roughly 5 years trying to make the Herculean leap from Idea to Start Up to Profitable Business you would quite happily just give it away so that somebody somewhere may benefit from your original idea (which you can’t even remember anymore anyway).
  • Attending every start-up junket and innovation event in order to network and make contacts, the depressing fact is that these events are not attended by angel investors brandishing their bulging cheque books just waiting to be charmed by your idea/smile/crappy wordpress site but and here is the thing, they are full of people like you desperately looking for help, advice and a way of making the last of their life savings stretch for just one more month.
  • Watching the inspirational, cult like musings of internet personalities who are so successful that they no longer need any syllables in their names being instantly recognisable as just Z or V or B.

Like all religious concepts “innovation” and what it represents today is impossible to describe but it is greeted with fervor and lack of doubt. It has sprung up it’s own priests and priestesses who give sermons on it’s value, and produce books to recruit us. Humanity does not need to have it’s own creativity and natural ability for problem solving explained. The innovation movement is the modern equivalent of snake oil being sold by shysters.

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie