Reality has Become Fuzzy #45 #cong23 #reality


My understanding of what is real and what constitutes reality seems to be constantly shifting these days… reality is getting fuzzy and I’m just learning how to deal.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Reality no longer means what I think it means.
  2. I think I’m going to have to deal with life being a little more fuzzy

About Clare Dillon:

Clare loves Congregation, and the discussions she has there. She is currently researching how developers can better collaborate to create and maintain software. She works with InnerSource and open source communities on the side.  She’s very sorry her submission came so late this year.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can connect with Clare on LinkedIn or send her an email.

By Clare Dillon

One of my favourite movies is The Princess Bride. I often find the characters inhabiting my head when their words appear relevant. When I heard of this theme, I could hear Inigo Montoyo say “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.


And fundamentally, I agree with Inigo. I used to think I knew what reality meant – but there have been so many times in the last few years where my perception of reality has been challenged, that at the moment, I think my understanding of the word is a little fuzzy.

Here is a list of just some of the times when my understanding of what “reality” is has been challenged…

  • Learning about quantum theory and entanglement and how a quantum system can exist in a combination of two or more possible states at the same time. Mind blowing.
  • Experiencing augmented reality for the first time with a Microsoft Hololens and “seeing” large mech invaders emerge from the wall of the room. As I started ducking and diving I had that peculiar experience of both knowing they were not real even as my body and mind was reacting like they were being attacked.
  • That time in Cong when I was introduced to the idea from James Joyce of “two thinks at a time” and “twosome twiminds.” That started me thinking about how two seemingly contradictory perspectives can be held as true at the same time.
  • Donald Trump becoming president. Who would’ve thunk that was possible when we saw him in Home Alone 2.
  • Thinking about just how “real” some artificial intelligence output seems.
  • Learning about all the cognitive biases at play in our minds that mean we rarely make decisions based on rational thinking. Realising just how little control we have about what we think in the world.
  • And that time, just a little while I ago, when I woke up from a particularly vivid dream of talking with my mother and believed, in that moment, that she was still alive and with us in this world….

My understanding of what is real and what constitutes reality seems to be constantly shifting these days…

After hearing there is a poetry jam once again at this Cong, here is a short poem ChatGPT came up with on the topic I quite like:

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to deal

With the uncertainty and ambiguity that we often feel

Sometimes we think we know the truth, but then we find out we were wrong

Sometimes we see things differently, but then we have to get along

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to cope

With the complexity and diversity that we often hope

To understand and appreciate, but then we face some challenges

To communicate and collaborate, but then we need some balances

Reality is fuzzy, we are just going to have to learn how to grow

With the creativity and curiosity that we often show

To explore and discover, but then we have to make some choices

To create and innovate, but then we have to use our voices

Purpose Pitfalls #50 #cong22


Some things I try to keep in mind while working with a purpose.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t get obsessed, keep space for other things in life
  2. Thing about the complex contexts we all operate in
  3. Try to find a group that shares your purpose
  4. It won’t be smooth sailing.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare Dillon has spent over 20 years working with developers and developer communities. Clare has been involved with InnerSource Commons since early 2019, and became Executive Director last year. InnerSource Commons focuses on creating a sharing resources to help developers do open collaboration inside their companies. Clare also works with OSPO++ to support the establishment of University and Government Open Source Program Offices and OSPOs++ globally, that can collaborate to implement public policy and trustworthy public services. Last year she co-founded Open Ireland Network to bring together people interested in advancing open source in Ireland.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can connect with Clare in LinkedIn.


By Clare Dillon

So this year’s theme is about purpose. And yes, I absolutely agree that having a purpose is vital to happiness, health and vitality in life.

Since I started working with many volunteer communities in the open source ecosystem, I have had the pleasure of working with more purpose-ful people than ever before. Indeed, I have also had the pleasure of meeting so many people over the years at Congregation who inspire me with the purpose and meaning they have found in life. So, when I sat down to write this, I didn’t know what more I could add to why finding your purpose is worthwhile and valuable.

Instead, I started thinking about a few of the things I have tried to keep in my own mind as I found myself working with a purpose…

The Dangers of a Sole Purpose

We all know people whose sole purpose in life is to [insert meaningful purpose here]. Their efforts are worthy and worthwhile, and the world is hopefully a better place for their effort and focus. But sometimes, having a sole purpose can distract you from the other pleasures in life. And there are so many. Little bursts of joy and surprise that you can only find in aimless wanderings and exploring. I often find myself overwhelmed by how much there is to do, so it takes extra effort to keep space for the unexpected and unintentional.

Complex Contexts

Pure passion about a topic can sometimes be like a shining spotlight, putting things in high relief, making things seem black and white. But we’re usually all actually muddling around in the grey, without seeing many of the forces at play in any given situation. I’ve learned that no matter how clear your purpose burns within you – it is always worthwhile assuming things are not black and white and closely examining the context you and others are operating in. Listen to people who may seem set against your purpose, who may give different perspective. Understanding more and assuming less always helps.

Shared Purposes Are the Best

Nothing better than working in a team with a shared purpose! I don’t know how folks do it on their own. Collaboration helps gets things done – and it helps to have a shoulder to cry on when things don’t go well.

Speaking of which…

Lose the Battle, Win the War

It can be devasting to “lose” when you are purpose-led. The feelings of disappointment and failure when something goes wrong can be more devastating than when it’s just “the day job”. And not all battles can be won. So the final thought is – it’s ok to lose the battle, but we must all keep the hope alive that we will win the war.

Clare Dillon Leadership Skills, Behaviours & Attributes – What Should We Be Looking For

Leadership Skills, Behaviours & Attributes – What Should We Be Looking For? #20 #cong21


 Leaders today don’t necessarily have the will, opportunity, or wherewithal to effectively lead us to a great future state. This article takes a look at just some of the skills, behaviours and attributes are needed for today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Leaders aren’t cutting it today.
  2. 8 skills, behaviours & attributes I would like to see in today’s and future leaders.
  3. Some brief thoughts on how to develop them.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare Dillon is the part-time Executive Director of InnerSource Commons, the world’s largest community of InnerSource practitioners. InnerSource is the practice of using open source methods and behaviours to develop proprietary software within organizational boundaries. Clare has been involved with InnerSource Commons since early 2019, when she helped set up NearForm’s InnerSource practice. She is also a qualified coach and consults on future world of work skills and organizational change for a digitally transformed world. Previously, Clare was a member of the Microsoft Ireland Leadership Team, heading up their Developer Evangelism and Experience Group. Clare recently sent up Open Ireland Network as a community for people interested in the open ecosystem in Ireland. She also works with the OSPO++ Network to support the establishment of University and Government Open Source Program Offices globally, that can collaborate to implement public policy and trustworthy public services through open collaboration. Clare frequently speaks at international conferences and corporate events on topics relating to the open collaboration, future of work, innovation trends and digital ethics.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can contact Clare by email or connect on LinkedIn.

Clare Dillon Leadership Skills, Behaviours & Attributes – What Should We Be Looking For

By Clare Dillon

Why we need leadership?

The world has changed. A few years ago, at Cong, I shared ideas about how the “4th Industrial Revolution” is changing the way we work and live, but I didn’t foresee a global pandemic accelerating change monumentally. The world is more complex now than ever before. The world is in-undated with misinformation. The past is not necessarily a predictor of the future. Trust in our societal institutions is at an all time low. The ice caps are melting and inequality is rising. To tackle global problems, we are all likely going to have to dramatically change how we live and work, and it won’t be easy. Great leadership is needed!

But who is leading? What makes a good leader? And how do we create more of them?

Leadership is such a broad topic, that it is very hard to do the topic justice in a short article. So, I have limited myself today by focusing on some of the emerging skills, behaviours and attributes I feel are needed by leaders today. Some that are perhaps mentioned less often in the many traditional lists of Leadership qualities.

Who is leading?

The first topic I want to touch on is who is actually “leading” these days. There has been a lot of discussion over the past week about “world leaders” due to their gathering at COP26. In many of the companies I have worked with, there is a class of employee who get tagged as “leaders”.

I am starting to use a lot of quotes at this stage. In my mind, many of our so-called “leaders” these days have a lot of work to do on their leadership skills. COP26 coverage shows a staggering amount of hypocrisy, a shocking lack of diversity and representation, or even a lack of ability to stay awake to hear the issues.

What don’t these “leaders” do?

  • Lead by example
  • Upset the status quo or vested interests that pay/influence them
  • Advocate for marginal / minority positions
  • Give adequate representation to those they “lead”
  • Dedicate enough time / bandwidth to even consider the idea of personal development

I could go on. But fundamentally, I think many of these leaders don’t really understand what leadership in today’s world should look like. They are often not particular trying to lead people to a new and better place, as they are so often invested in maintaining the status quo. They are trapped in systems where they feel the need to maintain control over leading to an uncertain future. They certainly don’t often exhibit many of the qualities I list below.

In some ways, I have sympathy, what was required of “leaders” in the past was often stability, consistency, efficiency. But the world has changed, and what got us here is not what will get us where we need to go.

These days leadership is not just coming from people who have been tagged as “leaders”. Top down hierarchies and power structures obviously still exist, but many have proven that is it’s certainly no longer necessary to be appointed to a position of authority to be able to lead. In a time when anyone has the potential to lead, what should we be looking for in a leader?

What does a real leader look like?

I’ve included below some areas which I feel are necessary, but lacking, in much leadership today.

So here they are, in no particular order…

A Leader Can Inspire, Change and Sustain

Difference contexts require difference skills – but leaders these days need to know how to effect change when change needs to happen, but also how to effectively sustain and inspire people that need to keep wheels turning and make things happen over a much more sustained period of time. Some people are more skilled in one rather than the other. It’s important to think about leveraging different balances of leadership skills depending on the context.

A Leader is Trustworthy

Untrustworthy leaders can’t lead effectively, so it is worthwhile looking at what makes someone trustworthy. TheHarvard Business Review summarizes in nicely in this article on the Three Elements of Trust:

By understanding the behaviors that underlie trust, leaders are better able to elevate the level of trust that others feel toward them. Here are the three elements:

  • Positive Relationships. Trust is in part based on the extent to which a leader is able to create positive relationships with other people and groups.
  • Good Judgement/Expertise. Another factor in whether people trust a leader is the extent to which a leader is well-informed and knowledgeable. They must understand the technical aspects of the work as well as have a depth of experience.
  • The final element of trust is the extent to which leaders walk their talk and do what they say they will do.

This is perhaps a more traditional point. However, it’s worth noting that in the glare of social media, and amidst trends of transparency and openness – there are new standards that have to be met in order to be trustworthy.

A leader Understands Context

In recent years I have become a fan of two subject matter areas that help people understand the changing nature of the landscape they are operating in (Wardley Mapping) and how to choose a way forward depending on the context you are in (Cynefin Framework for Decision Making). I do not have the time to go into any details on either, but I would highly recommend folks look into each area to help understand how to better navigate our changing world. Some fundamental truths I have learned are that context matters, expertise is no longer always enough to get to the “right” answer to a given problem (indeed can incorrectly bias folks), and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all answer.

A Leader Knows How to Fail Well

Leaders can’t be expected to get it right all the time. They should know how to deal with failure, and in fact welcome it in stages of experimentation.

In the area of Complex Adaptive Systems, it’s well understood that experimentation is at the heart of how to find a path to the future. However, the thing with experimentation is that you have to allow room for failure. I can’t tell you how much resistance there is among leaders to the idea of allowing failure, or even mentioning it. So many people (and in particular those that have risen to become called leaders) have been conditioned to never fail, always be successful. However, real leadership gives space for failure, knowing it’s the best way to learn.

A leader is an Excellent Communicator

A leader brings clarity of direction, and that means bringing it beyond buzzwords and using tools other than propaganda mechanisms. What that means is changing rapidly in today’s world. An excellent podcast with Zak Stein on the Jim Rutt show recently talks about the dangers of mis-information and how we are all on a path to Mutually Assured Destruction if we continue to allow the information wars to continue in our societies unabated.

I would highly recommend it to help understand what is going wrong in our world, how “leaders” are inadvertently losing trust, and how the tried and tested mechanisms for communicating are being hijacked. Future leaders understand the difference between propaganda and education, between inspiration and manipulation.

Building on the point about empathy, leaders should practice nonviolent communication. As described in Wikipedia: nonviolent communication is not a technique to end disagreements, but one that focuses on effective strategies for meeting fundamental needs for all parties in a conversation. The goal is interpersonal harmony and obtaining knowledge for future cooperation. Notable concepts include rejecting coercive forms of discourse, gathering facts through observing without evaluating, genuinely and concretely expressing feelings and needs, and formulating effective and empathetic requests.

A Leader Engages in Open Collaboration

As with other points listed, this little point in itself is a huge body of knowledge. I would submit that whereas the past century prioritised competition and control, the future will depend on open collaboration to accelerate innovation and produce levels of inclusion and trust necessary to make positive changes happen. As a starting point, here are the five characteristics of an open organization (from ): Transparency, Inclusivity, Adaptability, Collaboration, Community.

Building on that topic, skills like consensus building, decision making, remote working, flexible working (e.g. working in asynchronous environments), effective incentivization, and community building are all related to this point. Each one could also be a standalone topic in a list such as this, with huge bodies of knowledge behind each.

I’ll also note here that I only relatively recently found out there the top level on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs above self-actualization, and that is self-transcendence or interdependence (pic thanks to ( We will never get to where we need to alone!


A leader impacts Diversity & Inclusion (D&I)

There has been so much discourse about D&I, I am not going to re-iterate the many reasons why increasing D&I in any team, and in particular in “leadership”, has been proven to be a good thing (better decision making, more innovation, increased profits, increased trust to name but a few). The point here is that good leaders don’t just “care” about D&I – they do something to increase it.

A leader is a Designer of Spaces

Another amazing skill is creating and maintaining spaces. I look at the list below from Leandro Herrero in this great Sketchnote by Tammy Vora, and I am struck by how often this is not done at all (not to mind done well) by today’s “leaders”.

Leadership Spaces

How do we get more, good, leaders?

Listed above are just some of the skills, behaviours, and attributes of the leaders we need for today and the future. I am sure there are many more, and I look forward to hearing more in Cong.

In recent years, I have been buoyed when I see amazing examples of leadership coming from unexpected places. Whether it’s the amazing grassroots campaign like Repeal the Eight or the young leaders of the Climate Justice mass movement, or the achievements of a small group of dedicated folks like the team behind Grow Remote, there are examples of brilliant leadership all around us driving changes that help shape our world for the better. These are just a few that spring to mind – there are many, many more.

And we need even more to solve the problems and address the opportunities our world is now throwing at us. Here is where the rubber hits the road…. Of this list of traits and skills (and I am sure there are more I haven’t even listed), who has them? How do we nurture them when we see them? How do we develop them?

Traditional education mechanisms are probably not sufficient. We could create a future of work “leadership course”, but there is a risk it would get packed out with “leaders” who are often trapped by constraints and circumstances that make it impossible for them to lead us as we need to be led. That’s not enough.  Perhaps we need to look at some alternative ways in which we can foster these skills.

There is so much great learning material and assets out there already, the challenge is often finding them and applying them to a given context. Looking at some “future of education” trends, perhaps what’s called for is a community, or a network of de-centralised education hubs, or opportunities for more peer-to-peer learning with some mutual curation and coaching. I look forward to discussing ideas of how we might address this at Cong!

Title Photo by Chang Duong on Unsplash

Looking to the Future and the Past and Shifting our Vantage Point. #32 #cong20


A random set of ideas I have come across in 2020 that perhaps should be considered when we think about Society 3.0.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. I don’t know what the future looks like.
  2. Accept that it’s OK not to know where we’re headed.
  3. Maybe we’re not meant to be at the centre of system.
  4. Look to the past as we move to the future.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare Dillon has spent over 20 years working with developers and developer communities. Lately she has been exploring the world of open source and InnerSource (the practice of using open source methods inside organisations). She is particularly interested in topics relating to the future of work, alternative collaboration systems, innovation trends and digital ethics.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can contact Clare by email or connect on LinkedIn.

By Clare Dillon

When I close my eyes and think of the future I would like, the first thing that comes to mind is…..[insert long pause here]. Here’s the thing – I can’t seem to form a clear vision of what an ideal future would look like.

Every time I try I feel a mix of surprise and concern. Surprise, because I have been thinking a lot about what I would like the future to look like – and so it continues to amaze me that I am not even getting close to visualising a version of the future. I mean I have vague notions, but nothing concrete. Concern, because if we don’t know where we’re going, how will we ever get there?

So, I’m not going to offer my view of Society 3.0. But I’m just going to list three things I have learned in the last while that I think might help (me, if not you! ;).

1. Accepting I don’t know where we’re headed and that’s OK.

This is going to take practice – I’ve spent so long learning to visualise goals, and define targets, that it feels uncomfortable to just “trust in the process”.

I am a fan of Dave Snowden, who created the Cynefin framework for sense-making.

I’ve included some of Dave’s quotes below (taken from a medium post by @brixen.)

“Managing the present to create a new direction of travel is more important than creating false expectations about how things could be in the future.”


“In systems thinking, you define the ideal future state and you try to close the gap. In complexity, you describe the present and see what you can change. You define a direction of travel, not a goal.”


“If you start on a journey, you will discover things you didn’t know you could discover which have high utility. If you have an explicit goal, you may miss the very things you need to discover.”

Why do I like these ideas? It stops us from all this “what is the answer?” theoretical discussions, and puts us on a path of experimentation, observation and response or action.

2. Maybe we’re not meant to be at the centre of system.

I recently read a book by Tyson Yunkaporta called “Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World” . One of the central premises of the book is that humans are here on this earth in the role of custodians. Thinking about the future with this perspective results in a different set of priorities. It makes space for long term planning. It promotes a focus on sustainability. I think it helps to put us on a better path.

3. Look to the past as we move to the future.

Our stories shape us. And our stories teach us some things we have forgotten. In his book, Tyson also spends a lot of time pointing to the wisdom that comes from listening to the stories passed down from generation to generation among the indigenous population of Australia. He’s also keen to point out that we all have our own stories – and that those from his past may not be the right ones for the rest of us to listen to.

I do love a good story and good story-tellers. As a result, I am a huge fan of Candlelit Tales – an amazing story-telling duo who re-tell Irish myths and legends. Perhaps these tales have something to tell us about where we came from and where we might go. We could note, for example, that poets in ancient Ireland held high ranks.

I watched Joe Biden use Seamus Heaney’s words to move a nation. And I marvel at the power and potential a poem can have. I wonder what would happen if we experimented with the idea that poetry and art could and should have a more important place in whatever society we are currently building, one that might be particular to us here in Ireland.

Three thoughts to offer to this year’s Congregation – I look forward to hearing many more!

Thanks to Drew Beamer on Unsplash for the lovely photo.

Knitting a Community SCARF for the 4th Industrial Revolution #35 #cong19


The 4th Industrial Revolution promises to change how we work and live. The very act of transformation can threaten our sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF). Being part of a great community can increase our sense of SCARF to help us deal with this changing world.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1.   David Rock’s SCARF model shows how our perceptions of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness can impede rational thought.
  2. Digital Transformations often fail because of gaps in skills and capabilities and people not ready for change.
  3. Individuals perceiving threats to their SCARF will be less successful in learning and transitioning to new ways of work.
  4. Great communities  can increase our sense of SCARF to help us deal with change.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare is an independent Technical Evangelist helping organisations capitalise on emerging tech and related business trends. She also help organisations spread their ideas.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can contact Clare by email or connect with her on LinkedIn.


By Clare Dillon

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communities, and how they can be leveraged to address some of today’s work challenges. Communities popped into my head again when I was recently reminded of David Rock’s SCARF model – which looks at five domains of human social experiences and how they impact collaboration:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others.
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future.
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events.
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others, are they friend or foe?
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.

David Rock’s paper on the topic describes how we, as social beings, respond to threats and rewards in these areas as much as we do to threats and rewards to our physical safety or survival. Threats in these areas trigger our “lizard brain” and “flight, fight or freeze” response and literally make us incapable of rational thought. Looking at how the 4th Industrial Revolution is leading to many changes in how we work and live, it seems particularly relevant at present.

Today, almost every organisation is examining how they are going to digitally transform. Those that don’t risk becoming irrelevant. However, McKinsey says 70% of digital transformations fail, and common pitfalls often list a gap in skills and capabilities as the reason for failure. Gartner reports that “in about 60 percent of occupations, at least one-third of the constituent activities could be automated, implying substantial workplace transformations and changes for all workers”. Most analysts are expecting organisations to invest significant efforts in retraining and/or replacing staff to ready themselves for the future.

Let’s now think now about these trends frame digital transformation projects in organisations. Significant changes to individuals’ roles, activities being automated, previous expertise becoming irrelevant, and potential project failure are now the norm. These trends can easily be perceived as threats to existing status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and feelings of fairness. Digital transformation seems almost designed to be a SCARF threat trigger for individuals within organisations. Is it any wonder there is a rise in workplace anxiety and stress? We need more tools in our toolbox to deal with these challenges. With this amount of change on the horizon – I believe communities can play a role in increasing our sense of SCARF.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great technical community and user groups throughout my life. It’s always amazing to me what groups of passionate volunteers can achieve when they come together with a common cause. Members of these communities are often inspired by the kind of intrinsic motivation corporate leaders dream about after reading Daniel Pink.

The best communities positively influence their members sense of SCARF:

  1. Status – rewarding and celebrating achievements that perhaps only other community members can recognise.
  2. Certainty – helping level set status of technical trends, learn best practices and how to avoid pitfalls.
  3. Autonomy – members can shape conversations and agendas by investing their time, effort and passion.
  4. Relatedness – communities are places where deep friendships are formed that persist through different roles and organisations.
  5. Fairness – the best communities are safe spaces where informal or (more recently) formal codes of conduct ensure every member is treated with fairness and respect.

I have also been extremely lucky to have worked in some amazing teams throughout my life. I used to say the best of them felt like family, in terms of the supportive environment they provided. But the more I think about it, we were probably more like a great little community than a family. After all, we weren’t related by blood and didn’t spend Christmas together – but we did share certain values, attributes, interests and identity as well as a sense of a common place (whether physical or virtual). That sense of community has lasted long after I left those jobs, and I have learned to associate it with some of the best work experiences of my life.

So as we face the challenge of transitioning through the 4th Industrial Revolution, I think we need to start thinking about how communities can help us thrive: treating our teams as little communities of their own, building communities of practice across silos in organisations and joining communities outside our organisations to provide additional support. There is nothing like a big cosy scarf to make me feel warm and happy, safe from the wind and rain – now is the time to start knitting together a community SCARF to help us feel exactly the same way as we are buffeted by the winds of change.


Technology Evangelism – the discipline of spreading good ideas in a digital world. #17 #cong18


What is Technical Evangelism and why do we need more of it in today’s digital world!

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Some thoughts on how to define Technical Evangelism
  2. Key related competencies
  3. Why Technical Evangelism is important in today’s world.

About Clare Dillon

Clare is an independent Technical Evangelist helping organisations capitalise on emerging tech and related business trends. She also help organisations spread their ideas.

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can contact Clare by email or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Clare Dillon

Ideas, ideas, ideas – I love ideas. Every time I have a good one, or hear a good one, I get a little burst of adrenaline. And yet, so many ideas end up being nothing more than a quick high unless something is done with them. I was thinking about this, when I realised it is exactly what I have been thinking about on a regular basis for the majority of my career.

For the past 15 years, I have officially had the words evangelism or evangelist in my job title. However, I have discovered that people often do not actually have a very clear idea about what technology evangelism is or what technology evangelists do. This article aims to discuss that and include some thoughts on why it is a skill we need more of today.

The word evangelist is perhaps best associated with the four evangelists in the Bible. However, evangelism originally stems from a Greek word meaning the reward given to a messenger for good news. For me, evangelism is all about ideas that are good news, how those ideas spread and how they have impact in the world.

To be fair, it’s not that surprising that people don’t know what evangelism is – as there are not too many people declaring themselves to be evangelists. Even in LinkedIn Skills & Endorsements section, “Technology Evangelism” is listed under “Other Skills – These skills do not fit under the available categories”.

Indeed, in my early years in Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Evangelism Group, I used to drop the “E” word entirely from the group name, for fear that it would conjure up awkward jokes about whether or not I was associated with any religious groups. It wasn’t until relatively recently that I felt comfortable using comfortable using the words “Technology Evangelist” as a title. The turning point for me was probably seeing some colleagues from the US confidently use the title here in Ireland, without anyone making the sign of the cross at them (that happened to me quite frequently in the early years when people read my business card!).

But despite my original reticence to use the word – I have always passionately believed in the power of evangelism as a discipline.

There are three main competencies in evangelism:

  1. How to craft a message or story that best embodies an idea.
  2. How to best spread those messages/stories through various communication channels and engagements.
  3. How to engage and support communities that keep those ideas alive and help them evolve and grow.

Essentially it’s all about how to use ideas to change what people think, feel and do… at scale.

In an evangelism team there may be different roles. For example, in our team we had: developer/architect evangelists, program managers, audience marketing managers and over time, business evangelists each of whom specialised in one or more of the areas above.

There are many similarities in the skills required for marketing or sales, for example utilising best practices in social or pipeline management. But there are also a good many key differences, including:

  • Evangelism teams often have a high ratio of subject matter experts who are skilled in passionate communication.
  • Evangelism success is often measured by rates of market adoption (sometimes of free technology) or sentiment rather than revenue/sales.
  • Most notably, there is a very high emphasis on community support and engagement.

Why is technology evangelism an important role today?

In my early years in Microsoft, we were all about spreading the news about technology platforms within the technical community. However in the latter years, and in particular with the rise of cloud computing, we had shifted to evangelising new business models that the technology enabled – or how technology should be applied in business contexts. With the recognition that successful technology transformation is as much about culture in organisations as the technology used, evangelism is a useful tool in accelerating culture change.

Technology is also evolving at such a speed that there is a growing gap of understanding between those who can build cutting edge solutions, and those for whom the solutions are being built. I spoke recently on a panel with Lisa Talia Mortti, who introduced me to the fascinating field of study around sociotechnical blindness, a name for the disconnected relationship that sometimes exists between technology and humanity. Lisa has a white paper that explains the idea here. I personally am concerned about the digital divide that is growing in society whereby only those who are sufficiently “connected” can access the benefits digitization is bringing.

When good ideas emerge about how to best use technology for the benefit of society – it’s important for those ideas to spread and stick. And not just within technology circles, but also within broader industry circles and in society. There is a job to be done to open all our eyes to the potential opportunities (and sometimes the risk) of how we use technology in business and our lives. Technology evangelism has its part to play in that!