Kissing Frogs: Thoughts From Being Rejected #7 #cong17


The world is often not as enthusiastic about your innovation as you are. How dare they? Some thoughts on getting other people to take up your innovation, based on being turned down many times.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Even if your idea really is brilliant, you’ll get rejected a lot.
  2. Think about why you want people to care about your innovation – is it ego or is it money? Those two can be in conflict.
  3. Describing innovations in words is hard – at some point, you need to show people.
  4. Think about how you can reduce the risk that the person trying out your innovation is taking on

About Iain Morrow:

Iain is an expert in financial modelling, who has been developing them for over 2 decades. He has spent long periods in both public and private sectors, with a focus on infrastructure and long term planning. His latest company, Open Box Models, makes software that helps people produce – and understand – complex spreadsheets.

Contacting Iain Morrow:

You can see Iain’s work on the OpenBox Websiteor follow him on Twitter.

Kissing frogs: thoughts from being rejected.

Having an innovative idea, and even producing something as a result, are only first steps. As anyone who has made something new knows, other people can be less admiring of your new creation that you are.

But why do you care what people think, first of all? It’s perfectly possible to make something new for personal satisfaction, or as artistic expression, or as an academic exercise. If you care about people’s opinions, you are looking for something else: validation/ ego boost, or money.  That makes innovation sound a little less high-minded, but it’s true. You want other people to give you something for your innovation.

It’s actually easy enough to get ego boost. In his great book, “the Mom Test”, [xx] points out that people have an inbuilt tendency to tell you that your idea is wonderful, out of simple politeness. Most people are not rude.

So, we’re left with money. There’s a joke in there somewhere about a Scotsman ending up talking about money, but I’ll leave that to you.

Getting money out of people is quite hard. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your financial prince(ss). People come up with all sorts of reasons to avoid giving it to you. Sometimes those are helpful feedback and sometimes they are just lies. Examples I’ve heard are:

If it just did this one other thing.

I’d need to get approval from our US head office.

I’m [ploughing this week] and will call you when I get back

So why have I been rejected so much? Looking back, there are many reasons, but they boil down to benefit, risk and novelty.

Some people I spoke to just don’t care enough. My innovation might be useful to them once a year, for a few days, but are they willing to take time and money.

Risk is a more interesting one. Taking on someone else’s innovation is hugely risky. Do they know what they are doing? Will it work with my life/ company/ colleagues? In many ways, this is comparable to what investors do when they consider putting money into a company. What are the ways that this company can go wrong? It is slightly different, in that investors are putting their money into the future of the company as a whole, not just a single innovation. But the principle is the same – what are the risks of this innovation?

Let me give you an example. I have some software that produces financial projections automatically. In theory, it has all the advantages of automation over people – faster, fewer mistakes and so on. But a common response is “what if it gives the wrong answer”. What if it produces a projection that says that my company is worth 50 million when it should be 200 million? Or why should I change a process that works already? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

How do you overcome this? By reducing the risk. You can’t offer to take it away – you aren’t credible to do that. But demonstrate the product, for free if necessary. Run a parallel trial against the current process. Show quick wins.

The final challenge is novelty. This is actually the one people talk least about. But for an innovative idea, the hardest part can be telling people what it is! People know what they use now to solve their problem. Are you like their current solution? Or not? Imagine describing a car to people who’ve only seen a horse and cart. People simply don’t understand, or don’t believe, you.

One way to overcome this is “we are the X for Y”. This goes some way towards it, but I’ve had lots of difficult conversations. One person’s clear analogy is another person’s further confusion. Is describing your product as “a 3D printer for financial models” clear or unclear? It’s worked with some but not others.

The only way I’ve found to really overcome this is to SHOW people. Lots of startup advice pushes in the opposite direction – discuss people’s problems, understand their issues, don’t lead with the solution. And that’s good advice, as far as it goes. But it’s not a complete conversation. You have to show people at some point, if you want them to understand.

Innovation in AI is accelerating – should we be afraid? #31 #cong17


For every positive story about the potential for innovation in AI, there is another about how AI “could spell the end of the human race”. Should we really be afraid? Or is there a better way to approach the coming AI revolution.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We should all be very excited about the potential of AI to positively change the world.
  2. Why we might be afraid of innovation in AI.
  3. An alternative option to fearing AI.
  4. Three actions we should all take to get ready for AI.

About Clare Dillon:

Clare recently left Microsoft, where she had spent the last 8 years on the Microsoft Ireland Leadership Team working with partners to help them get the most out of Microsoft technology. These days, she’s busy helping organisations maximise the opportunities presented by the latest trends in technology, from AI to Virtual/Mixed Reality. Clare is passionate about how technology is changing and shaping the world we live and work in, she regularly speaks on topics related to digital transformation and organisational change. She gets very excited about lots of things – but is particularly excited about her first Congregation!

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can connect with Clare on LinkedIn or email her.

There is so much innovation happening in so many areas at the moment, from decoding the human genome and 3D printing of body parts, to VR and nanorobotics, that it’s hard to keep track. But, conversations around innovation in Artificial Intelligence seem to spark a level of emotion I haven’t seen in other discussions of technology trends.

No-one can deny the phenomenal amount of innovation that has happened in the AI space in the last decade – and many experts agree that the rate of innovation is increasing. Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking about the potential of AI to change the world for the better. I love the topic. Apart from geeking out at what AI can accomplish these days, it gives me hope that we can solve in new ways some of the problems society grapples with. We all can appreciate ways in which AI already makes our lives easier (just by helping people like myself actually find the shortest way from A to B), but when you look at how AI may be used in medical scenarios and to innovate around food production and climate change, it’s easy to get very excited indeed.

However, as I learn more about these topics, l find I have two main types of emotional responses to stories about innovation in AI: unbridled excitement, or gut-wrenching fear. Nestled among the stories of technical wizardry and promises of making the future a better place, there are a large number of articles predicting the end of the world as we know it: biased and racist AIs perpetuating the worst possible views of individuals, AI stealing your jobautonomous war robots that will bring nothing but DEATH AND DESTRUCTION… And, much as the optimist in me would love to dismiss folks who tell these stories as a group of Chicken Lickens predicting the sky will fall, there is general agreement that AI and automation will cause huge disruption for organisations, societies and for us all as individuals.

It’s easy to understand why we might get scared of AI – we’re built to be easily scared. It doesn’t help to hear people like Stephen Hawking talking about how AI “could spell the end of the human race”. Most movies and media featuring AI usually don’t end with rainbows and butterflies. And if, as Elon Musk suggests, we are “summoning the demon” that poses the “biggest existential threat” to the human race, perhaps we should be shaking in our boots.

But I believe fear is the wrong response to what’s happening in the world of AI. Acting from a place of fear is just not a good idea. What good does it do us to have everyone ready to fight or take flight when confronted with the prospect of AI being integrated to our lives? Are you ready to up stakes and move off-grid? I doubt it! And if a group of modern-day Luddites think they’re going to smash up my smartphone – they have another think coming. Getting stressed about the whole thing doesn’t help anyone either – it’s not like we need more stress these days. So how should we react?

Practically speaking, I don’t believe we can avoid, out-run or reverse the AI revolution – that Pandora’s box is already wide open. Regardless, I am not willing to give up on all the marvellous potential it has. I still believe we need to approach the coming AI revolution with optimism. Not the type of passive optimism which leaves us smiling, cooing at robotic pets, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best – but a type of engaged optimism which sees many more people getting involved in defining how and where AI should be employed for the best possible outcome for all of us.

There are a number of institutions already engaged in these efforts: Oxford’s Future of Humanity InstituteNYU’s AI Now InstitutePartnership on AIFuture of Life Institute are all looking at the ethical and social implications of a world with AI. But most organisations looking at the social impact of AI are either academic institutions (requiring you to take a PhD to participate in the conversation) or industry groups made up of tech companies interested in getting some standards set around AI. Some government agencies are getting in on the act delivering economic impact reports and action plans. All these types of discussions are necessary and worthwhile – but I believe more individuals need to get in on the conversation as quickly as possible.

This shouldn’t mean you have to get a PhD in AI. Many AI action plans feature a lot of recommendations about technical upskilling. I absolutely support all efforts to increase technical skills in the workforce and in our schools. But I also believe that they are not the highest priority when it comes to education around AI. Here is what I would like to see everyone spend some time on:

  1.  Get informed about the latest trends in technology, the potential benefits and risks. A quick google search will get you a million articles around the latest AI innovation in whatever field you work in. You don’t have to be technical to realise the benefits of the applications of AI. On the other hand, this article from the World Economic Forum or the most recent report from the AI Now Institute gives a good overview of the other considerations around AI adoption.
  2. Figure out the kind of world you want to live in. This is something we should all do anyway. However, because things are moving so fast in the area of AI, it is predicted that related economic and social change is going to happen quicker than we think. Therefore, it is now more important than ever for people to be clear about the direction they want our society to move in. Getting to a collective understanding of where we want to head (and where we don’t want to head) helps us shift trends, make decisions, and vote with purpose. I really liked the PWC report on the Workforce of the Future. It helped me visualise and describe the kind of world I want to see in the future (I like the Yellow one).
  3. Start new conversations about how we can get to that type of world. I don’t think anyone has all the answers yet. There are already some good documented recommendations for how we approach adoption of AI (for example from the 2017 report from the AI Now Institute) and those need to be amplified and actioned. More conversations also need to be had on the topic by a wider set of people, standards need to be set, policies need to be formed.

I look forward to furthering this conversations at #cong17. The implications of AI are too significant to leave it to the academics and techies. It’s time to conquer any fears we might have. It’s time for us all to help shape the potential future these innovations are creating.

lnnovation = Big Bucks #33 #cong17


In many ways to innovate is to diversify, implying a multiplication factor to one’s business offering. But why do so few companies invest in innovation? Is it because of the perceived low return on investment ratio, fear, lack of know-how, lack of disposable cash or all of the above?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Innovation isn’t only do or die, it can really help boost the growth of any company
  2. Fantastic range of national and European supports means that you can further your innovation objectives at low or even nil cost
  3. Implementing innovation in your strategy enables creation of new revenues streams
  4. Bottom line, don’t just survive, grow with innovation!

About Helena Deane:

Helena Deane is the Horizon 2020 Adviser and Project Support Executive at WestBIC, an EU Busines Innovation Centre with HQ in Galway, as well as the Principal Consultant at Business Connection Ireland based in Cong. Her educational background is in European Business Administration, having graduated First Class in this field from Universities in Cambridge and Berlin.  For the last 9 years, Helena has been working with StartUps, SMEs, Universities and various Public Organisations as a consultant in the areas of R&D and innovation, feasibility analysis, business strategy, planning, commercialisation and funding. Helena is also engaged by the European Commission as an expert and evaluator to undertake specific assignments concerning research and innovation related to Horizon 2020.

Contacting Helena Deane:

You can contact Helean by eMail.

Innovation is not a foreign, new concept. Much before innovation become the word d’jour, companies (and in particular SMEs) were encouraged to diversify – both implying that you should strategise to invoke change and to do things differently or in a novel market context.

However now, as well as then, there is arguably a risk adverse attitude of companies towards change and indeed innovation, compounded in no small part by the perception that innovation is costly, time-consuming and thus not worthwhile, compounded by fear of failure. While it is consuming in terms of demand on time of the management team in a small company, innovation is vital to long term prosperity of the business and in particular growth. Market trends change and so do customer wants and needs. Technology also has a massive transformative effect on the way we live and do business. All this means that change is necessary and companies need to speculate in order to accumulate, with long term objectives in mind, in order to boost their bottom line.

Innovation is encouraged and stimulated by government national and EU policy, meaning that there are many financial and advisory supports available to companies who are thinking about embarking on innovation including specific financial supports ranging from few thousand (e.g. innovation voucher) to several million Euro (e.g. H2020 Fast Track to Innovation), R&D tax credits, innovation audits, supports for international collaborations and researcher collaboration, access to sector specific infrastructure, tailor made programmes or accelerators and an abundance of free advice. Awareness and utilisation of these support mechanisms is still quite low.

In conclusion, doing things differently, innovating, pays big bucks in the long run, and can be achieved with moderate risk and costs to a company, but the company needs to be outward looking and open to engaging with the myriad of supports available.

At the CongRegation, I hope to discuss with other participants and get their view on obstacles to innovation and levers for growth… I hope these discussions will lead more people to avail of supports to innovate and grow.

Identify, Isolate, Destroy #42 #cong17


I explore the notion of ‘innovation’ in retail banking. Using the immune system and sci-fi imagery as metaphor I explain why innovation doesn’t work in banking and why it is counter cultural. I dis the whole digitalization effort of banks as ineffective as they ‘innovative’ their way to servicing their customers. Until they see technology, operations, and data as a competitive advantage and own it, innovation and digitalization will be more of the same; lipstick on a pig. Engineering rigour and discipline is a must!

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Stop using the word innovation and instead focus on experimentation
  2. Stop using the word digital and instead focus on automation
  3. Don’t be seduced by the FAANGs
  4. Make technology, operations, and data a competitive advantage.

About Liam Ó Móráin:

Liam is an engineer by profession and an innovator by vocation. Working with global banks on creating the bank of the future.

Contacting Liam Ó Móráin

You can follow Liam on Twitter, connect with him on Linkedin or via email 

By Liam Ó Móráin

‘Identify, Isolate, Destroy’: natural reaction of a host system (think biology, then, think company) against something new irrespective of the threat.

I can’t help but have a sci-fi image of a major all-out attack on a foreign body entering a system when thinking of how the idea of innovation and the introduction of new ideas are ‘isolated and destroyed’ long before they have a chance to benefit or threaten a company, like a bank.

In biology, a body’s own immune system is a  ‘natural born killer’ to anything new and ‘foreign’ (i.e. an antigen in biology terms). The immune system creates antibodies to react, attack, isolate, and destroy these antigens. Bad antigens in a system are called pathogens. But not all antigens are ‘bad’; some benefit the system!

So enough of sci-fi, biology, and associated imagery as a lead in, and, now on to retail banking, to which I think the metaphor is appropriate.

Having worked with retail banking in North American and in Europe my experience is that retails banks don’t do ‘real’ innovation!

One way to assess ‘retail banks don’t do innovation’ is in terms of risk. Retail banking is (or should be) a ‘low risk’, ‘low margin’ business and therefore the systems, people, and organization are built to identify and weed out risk and anything that may harm the bank. A mother’s wisdom of ‘that which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger’ had no truck in retail banking where risk is anathema to its very existence. Banks don’t like change. Therefore notions of ‘innovation’ and ‘bleeding edge’ are innately and culturally antigenic to the way a bank and its people think and work and to the fundamentals of how banking as an organization is structured and operates as a business.

Having lived in the ‘innovation’ world of banking for the last few years my suggested antibody/antidote for the banking system and its reaction to innovation is to kill the word ‘innovation’ and ban it use. Instead of innovation I have started to use ‘experimentation’: the antidote to innovation is experimentation. Experimentation is less threating to most people. It sounds less complicated, less risky, than innovation, which is often considered complex, highfalutin, head office type function. Experiments are things that can be tried at the ‘side of the desk’ in an informal, impromptu, ad-hoc way. Whether as an individual or small team, something can be tried and tested, experimented upon, tweaked, developed or abandoned as befits the idea being explored, where it is being explored, and by whom. Trying something at one’s desk is for more doable and, sure, if it doesn’t work, no harm, and in fact, no one needs to know especially those higher up if ‘it’ doesn’t pan out.

In the last 5+ years or so ‘digital’ and more recently ‘digitalization’ have become the ‘nom de guerre’ by which banks hope to ‘innovate’ and modernize themselves. The whole digital racket is perceived by banks as big and complex and the perfect place to innovate. Retail banking (consumer, SME, and corporate) as such is not complex: money in and out plus a fee for the privilege. However, banking organizations have become very complex and unwieldy.  Adding big complex digital transformation programs onto big clunky organization is just adding complexity upon complexity which is just more complexity. This then frustrates and bedevils the heroes in banks who what to change and transform their organizations! Just as I have stopped using the word innovation in banking so too I have stopped using the world ‘digital’ as banks are not yet technically sophisticated enough as organizations. To simplify the message I use the word  ‘automate’. Like experimentation, automation is more understandable and accessibly. Until banks focus on true automation across the whole organization, digitalization or any modernization effort will not remove the current complexity (organizationally, technically, operationally, and indeed culturally) within banking. Automation can be big or small and focused on product, process, people or function for example.

I would suggest that real automation in banking has to happen first before real and meaningful ‘digitalization’ happens. Most of this automation has to happen in the back end, operations, below-the-water-line so to speak. As banking is not complex, it is ripe for automation. Technology and technologists (internal or external) have not served banking well to date. Where exactly the blame lies, is hard to identify.

However companies that do get technology, do successfully experiment internally and externally delivering new operational models and efficiencies and services to their customers. They also do ‘get automation and are ruthless about it. To them, technology, experimentation, and automation are competitive advantages. Modern tech companies like the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) have technology in their DNA and are technically sophisticated. With engineering rigour things get automated, enabling rapid experimentation and fast time to market of products to service and delight FAANG customers.

Banks too often look at the FAANGs as the sole source of inspiration and envy in terms of customer engagement. This is a mistake I think, as their business models, knowledge of the power and user of technology, culture, and markets are very different to banks. FAANGS are also unregulated and don’t involve ‘cash’. Banks instead should draw inspiration from the gambling industry: an old industry that had, not so long ago, outsourced its technology and operations. A few years ago, the likes of Paddy Power, decided technology, operations, and data were critical to their business and if done rightly a competitive advantage. Therefore, senior management and the organization made a decision to ‘own’ their technology and operations unlike retail banking. In effect they are technology companies in the gambling space rather than gambling houses using technology. Until retail banks get that they are technology companies selling banking products they will struggle to innovate/experiment never mind automate. Therefore their customers will be underserved and their business models very costly. And as a parting note until banks address their significant ‘technical deficit’ in senior management they will always follow rather than lead, stuck addressing yesterdays ‘problems’ and fighting over the scraps of an old market rather than defining a new world order (the new frontier, going bolding where nowhere no one has gone before: sorry sci-fi/Star Trek again.)

So, good engineering is necessary in banking to bring discipline and rigour. This will help deliver an environment ripe for automation and continuous improvement. This in turn will enable experimentation and engagement that will delight customers, make it a good place to work, reassert control over their own future, and deliver value to shareholders!

Hierarchy, the Environment, IT and Community. #44 #cong17


There is a great risk of permanent damage to our environment. Our hierarchic system of society is a major factor in causing the environmental damage. IT needs to adapt to supporting communities, not hierarchies.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Our environment is under threat and our hierarchic social structure is a major cause.
  2. Patriarchy is a feature of our hierarchic society, not a separate system.
  3. Hierarchy cannot  tolerate dissent, and so cannot easily change.  Physical communities need toleration to survive, and so have the means to more easily  change.
  4. Ireland is uniquely placed to adapt IT for this because of our strong  voluntary community structures.

About Conor O’Brien:

Conor comes from a tradition of cooperative and local involvement; he has been involved in community and farming organisations all his life. He is now a director of Mitchelstown Credit Union and also involved in guiding on the Galtee and Knockmealdown mountains with a focus on how the people here lived and managed their places rather than on the challenge of the peaks.

Contacting Conor O'Brien

You can contact Conor by email.

“Before you’ll change, something important must be at risk.” Richard Bach.

The greatest risk facing us is environmental damage caused by our own activities and the decisions of  those at top of our social hierarchy. They are not going to act to reduce that risk; instead, they actively undermine actions that reduce it.  It is unrealistic to  expect them to change their nature. IT must develop tools that enable us to organise for change.

“The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.” Stanley Milgram.

Sally Hacker posed the question, what kind of society is it where men consider it normal to  deprive their own sisters and mothers of resources and power? These were the people who bore them, and  reared them, and grew up with them. And why do the women consider it normal to accept this?

Hierarchy is a good explanation of the structure of our society. Patriarchy is integral within hierarchy, not an independent feature of our society.  Most men are subservient, just not as much as almost all women.

The present hierarchy uses  theories of capitalism and free markets as merely useful tools in maintaining the position of those at its top. Ultimately that control is physical force.

“Violence administered for the sake of power “turns into a destructive principle that will not stop until there is nothing left to violate” Hannah Arendt.

“A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Edmund Burke,

Hierarchies are very slow to adapt, and  intolerant of fundamental change,  because that would mean accepting  that the benefits of those on top should be reduced.  Hierarchies strength is it’s rigidity; it’s weakness is it’s rigidity.

Societies and communities attached to a place have learned to tolerate diverse views and ideas in order to survive as their environment changes.  Their members are dependent for their acceptance on the tolerance of their neighbours.  Real communities have  an interlocking network of bonds that are elastic, not rigid.

“Facebook helps kettle activists in their arm chair. The police state can gather far more data about them, while their impact is even more muted than if they ventured out of their home.” Daniel Pocock

Current Information Technology matches the rigidity of  hierarchies, rather than  the diversity and toleration found in real communities. It has increased people’s alienation from each other and encouraged monocultures of values and interests.

“First we shape the building, then the building shapes us.” Winston Churchill.

If we want to change how our environment is treated,  we must adapt  our IT tools to the  communication and decision needs of our communities, rather than force the communities  into shapes that destroy them.  We need   IT solutions that  augment the elasticity and toleration that supports the individual, not isolates them.

“The highest form of art is the creation of community.” Rocky Rodriguez Jr.

The structure of Irish state and local government  is extremely centralized and hierarchic. In spite of this, and also because of this, Irish real communities are uniquely suited places to produce IT tools that are not hierarchic.

Like Polanyi’s double movement of society reacting against marketization by pushing for social protection, so also has Irish society reacted to a hierarchic state by producing a network of voluntary community organisations that is one of the densest in any developed economy.

“Give us the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love.” Michael Collins.

Love is  for real people and places. Michael Collins did not organise a new state with speeches and words, but with people and actions that grew together.  Innovation that supports hierarchy is like offering bling jewelry to a victim of hierarchy.  Real innovation is us supporting ourselves in new ways.

It is not a question of destroying hierarchy but of developing the tools that enable us to build a society that is suited to our needs. One that is not dependent on ‘empowerment’ by a hierarchy, but is controlled by ourselves.

It will  need tools like Loomio (from which the image is taken), that was developed by the software cooperative Enspiral out of it’s own need to better organise itself. It is now used by Podemas in Spain to organise their movement.

“Next time, Harry, we won’t play by their rules. We’ll invent our own!” Liam Neeson, in film, Michael Collins.

It’s Time to Wake Up! #50 #cong17


Fear will always be part of our nature, and perhaps it is our fears, more than anything, that make us who we are. Knowing that fear need not stop us in life, but can be the very ‘fuel’ that in the overcoming of it, becomes our unique and innovative light in the world.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
  2. Don’t die with your music still inside you.
  3. The road to happiness is an inward journey.
  4. Your playing small does not serve the world.

About Eileen Forrestal:

Eileen Forrestal’s life demonstrates that when you courageously accept an invitation to step into the unknown, life can be better than you ever imagined.  ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek’ (Joseph Campbell)  After 25 years as a medical doctor Eileen literally walked up to a new door and a new and exciting future opened up.   Eileen’s willingness to say yes and determination to live a big life has led her to chose speaking up over remaining silent.  Due to an embarrassing stammer in her early years, Eileen grew up with a fear of speaking in public, a fear that would determine her choices in life. Rather that follow her grandfather into journalism and politics, Eileen chose a career in Medicine, then chose the ‘hidden and silent’ speciality of Anaesthesia. However, with her self-expression thwarted in one area, she chose career freedom as a locum over permanency for many years, as she had a desire to travel the world and experience as much of life as possible. Unintentionally childless, she powerfully chose a role of supporting and encouraging others to overcome their fears and pursue what is important to them. A ‘mentor’ to anaesthesia undergraduates, Eileen emphasised the importance of ‘stress management’ and healthy thinking/coping skills to deal with the stresses of a medical career.   After a long and varied career that spanned many countries and specialities, she realised that, while enjoying her career, she was had a desire to impact the lives of a greater number of people ‘before’ they became physically ill and ended up in her operating theatre! Education was key. After chance encounter in 2006 with the author of The Irish Survivor’s Diary, and an invitation into a publishing partnership, Eileen chose to embark on this radically different path. For 10 years she continued to work half time as an Anaesthetist and half time producing the newly named Irish Get Up and Go Diary, empowering people to notice and even alter the way they think, and speak, about life”, encouraging people to ‘get up and go’ for what they truly want.   In 2013, another chance phone call (and an invitation to Bali) brought her into contact with Entrepreneurs Institute and the choice to finally retire from her Medical career to work full time in her business, Get Up and Go Publications Ltd, now producing a range of inspirational diaries, journals and events for adults and teens. Eileen is now confident that her entrepreneurial spirit in creating and promoting products that uplift, educate and inspire, is impacting tens of thousands of people around the world. Personally fulfilled, shining her light and playing to her strengths, Eileen is delighted that her life and work continues to make a positive difference in peoples lives.   As an Anaesthetist Eileen was busy putting ‘people to sleep’. Through Get Up and Go Publications Ltd and her new Shine Your Light coaching, Eileen is now in the business of ‘waking people up’.   Now at home in the beautiful and inspirational landscape of Sligo, with her partner Brendan, and Kellie, her friendly Cocker Spaniel, Eileen is living a life of her own design.

Contacting Eileen Forrestal:

You can follow Eileen on her Twitter GetUpandGo/GUAG, or connect on Facebook Eileen Forrestal – Shine Your Light 

By Eileen Forrestal.

The Cave You Fear To Enter …

For some people the world seems like a ‘dark’ place.

In all our lives, we often experience ‘dark’ moments.

In each of us, we can have our own ‘dark’ thoughts.

There is no such ‘thing’ as ‘Dark’ however, we only know dark in the context of light, ie in its absence.

The way to eliminate darkness in a room is to ‘switch’ on a light.

The darkness of the night disappears with the rising sun.

Darkness in a spooky corner will be eliminated when we shine a light on it.

What about the ‘dark thoughts’ in our mind ? Would simply shining a light on them cause them to disappear?

Dark thoughts are accompanied by certain moods and feelings, to all of which we ascribe certain words. The same words are also the most powerful tools that we have for throwing (the proverbial) light on any subject.

Darkness is often associated with fear. Fear of dark caves, dark houses, dark nights …. In olden times whatever happened in the hours of darkness was a mystery, it was scary and all sorts of explanations were given for ‘things that go bump in the night.

We are all scared of the dark! Our ‘brain’ or maybe our ‘eyes’ have not yet been updated to be comfortable in the dark. Is the cat really ‘scared-y’!!

Much of our fear of darkness relates to the unseen and unknown.

In the day-light world – what could there possibly be to fear? Sure, the tiger running towards us would be a terrifying experience, but failing that, what is we actually fear?

We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t know and what we don’t understand.

My favourite quote is from Joseph Campbell  ‘the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek’.

I also  love the quote from Marianne Williamson as quoted by Nelson Mandela  –  Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. it is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us’.

Only when we risk asking a question have we any hope of getting an answer.

We  have the gift of language …. a remarkable tool – and in language we can actually ‘shine a light’ on our fears by asking what are they and where do they come from. The answer may liberate us. The truth may indeed set us free!

Someone asked me recently what was I afraid of ?

I answered honestly – “dying without ever having been known”.

That answer brought another question.

How could I be known?

I must show up as who I am and risk being seen and heard.

This was the cave I feared to enter … but would it hold the treasure I sought?

I had spent over 30 years avoiding this –  hiding, in silence and for 20 years, putting people to sleep. I was an Anaesthetist. No one ‘knew me’.

Why did I become a Doctor – it was ‘the longest course in college’! I had a ‘stammer’ and a fear of speaking – I feared being judged, mocked, embarrassed, and misunderstood.

I believed a ‘job’ that required speaking to people, even on the telephone, was not possible for me. I decided I would stay in school …. for as long as possible ….

But they say ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’ … I was soon ‘trapped’ in a career that was not ‘who I was’ but, it kept me ‘safe’. I made the best of it. I was smart and hardworking. Over the years I lost something. I lost heart. I was doing well was but I had no voice. I occurred for myself as small and ‘powerless’ … and, slowly but surely, a part of me died, (or slept / went unconscious)  I had given up on my dreams. I had actually dreamed about being on the stage … in truth I wanted to be Shirley Temple … or Anyone But Eileen Forrestal … in fact anyone for whom the words came easily out of their mouths.

Inevitably, my career stalled. Yes, I was materially wealthy, outwardly ‘successful’ but I was dissatisfied and unfulfilled.

My marriage failed. My relationship with myself was suffering.

I asked myself ‘how did this happen to me ‘? Where did it all go wrong?

Was I sleep walking through life patiently waiting for it all to work out in the end?

Was I driving my own bus to where I wanted to go or was the bus diving me?

Did I have any ‘say’ in how my life went?

Had I fallen asleep at the wheel, and how many years ago?

Was being afraid of the answer a good enough reason not to ask the question?

Is curiosity not the key to everything …

If I didn’t ask the answer would always be No …. and there would be no opportunity ….

Was the fear of holding on now greater than the fear of letting go?

“The way out of the trap is into the trap”.

What was my trap?

The fear.

What was my fear … stuttering and being judged ?

How could I get out of the trap?

Go into the trap. Feel the fear and do it anyway…

Speak up  … risk the stutter ..

and risk being judged.

I spoke and I spoke the truth about my fear … clearly and  without hesitation.

What Happened?

People listened to what I had to say and I was not judged.

I was so happy

People said I was shining

I was out …. In the light and I loved it.

I went on to speak on radio … and Dragons Den … and have stood in front of large groups of people … speaking fluently – this now was life beyond my dreams.

My marriage breakdown was a a Wake Up call for me.

Instead of looking for someone to blame, I took the courage to look inside. The road to happiness is an inward journey.

We don’t often hear the ‘wake up’ calls in life, not until they are really loud!

We may be shaken by a medical diagnosis or an unfortunate accident or close call. Some of us may have sufficient time to make good the rest of our lives; others are not so lucky.

We stay ‘asleep’, blissfully unaware of the enormous possibilities that lie just outside our ‘comfort zone’.

We build our walls to keep us safe, fearing the darkness outside, where in fact, perhaps we have built walls keeping our fears locked inside.

We all recognise the happiness of children at play – curiously engaging with the world, not afraid to ask questions … but why ? but why? but why?

And happy to make up their own answers; If an ‘adult’ is not giving a satisfactory answer what’s wrong with ’making up’ a new and better one???

Children shine their innovative light all the time … until someone ‘puts it out’ with a thoughtless response or harsh judgement or a cruel comment.  As adults perhaps we fear the same ‘punishment’ when we ask an honest question?

In life, we are always on the edge of the unknown.

We often ascribe the fear of change to a fear of the future – like it is some unknown land that we will suddenly find ourselves in – unprepared  and ill-equipped. So we look back to find comfort in the familiar.

But we are all now living in this mythical place that we called ‘the future’ yesterday, or last week, or last year, or 50 years ago…. and we are ok.

The future is there to be filled and will appear bright or dark depending on what we fill it with – our dreams or our fears.

True innovation requires new and creative thinking.

A new answer requires a new question, asked in a new way, desiring a new solution, creating a new future; an old problem viewed through a new lens … with the sleep rubbed from our eyes… awake and looking newly at the world … noticing everything … without fear … like a new born baby or someone waking from a deep sleep or an anaesthetic … as if seeing the world for the first time…. and wondering what it might be like if ….

It is our privilege (and responsibility) as human beings to be able to imagine an exciting and inspiring future, to be able to speak it into existence and to take the actions necessary to realise it. Everything that exists in the world today existed first as a thought in a person’s mind. We need the confidence to ‘shine an innovative light’ into the unknown future. We need new and innovative thinking to create the visions that will inspire the next generation to design a better, fairer world.

As an anaesthetist I had a chance every day to say Wake Up! Can you hear me…. It’s time to wake up….. time to Rise and Shine ….

So, I say again, not as an Anaesthetist this time …. Wake Up and Shine Your Innovative Light.

“Your playing small does not serve the world. We are all born to shine.  ”As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others”.

Me, Myself and the Entrepreneur. #51 #cong17


When you invest all of yourself in your idea or your business, over time it becomes who you are. So what happens to you the person behind the business when it doesn’t quite work out the way you planned? They say most entrepreneurs have to fail a few times before they succeed. We need to be innovative about how we support them when they fall to the ground and not just when they are taking off.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Do not allow the success of your business determine your value as a person.
  2. Be prepared to fail and change direction if you have to.
  3. Whether you try or trade we need to value both types of entrepreneur as they are both vital to our economy.
  4. We need to think about the support we offer to the person when things don’t work. It’s not all down to the state and it’s not all about money.

About Alan Dowling:

Alan Dowling is VP of Learning Development & Communication in Northern Trust Bank and also  Co-Founder of the website and app that offers learning podcasts for Irish Business. In 2013 Alan created the worlds first virtual intelligent holographic assistant with his startup VBC. Alan has a background in visual communication and has helped many startups and large organisations sell and raise significant investment by making the complex compelling.

Contacting Alan Dowling:

You can follow Alan on Twitter or contact him by email.

By Alan Dowling.

Ask someone what they do for a living and they will tell you I’m a nurse, a retail assistant, a salesperson or a marketer. Ask someone who has their own business or trying to start a business and they will say I’m an entrepreneur or I work for myself.

The reason is in most cases they have to be able to do everything and anything and can’t really define the one thing that they do. In actual fact, they may represent 50% of their entire company workforce.

So, what happens when you cannot define what it is you do? Your idea or your business can very easily become who you are. Socially you spend time with other entrepreneurs because they talk shop as much as you do. It becomes your face, your first thought when you wake up and last thought before you go to sleep. Sometimes excitement and ideas, sometimes fear and dread.

So here’s a thought. What happens when after a long period of time your idea dies or your business closes. What happens to you? Do you even know who “you” are anymore and how can you decide what next? If you setup a company rather than a sole trader, you do so to create a separate legal entity from yourself. Ironically though how much of yourself is the company? Detaching yourself not just legally but mentally from the business. Figuring out what it is that you do is the only way to go again in a meaningful way.

If “going again” is taking or looking for a salaried job with a specific role, how do you now explain this to your entrepreneur friends without making it sound like you have moved to the dark side. Oh, the shame in having to admit that you have opted to go from 80 hours per week to 40, or where you have spent the family shopping budget in order to make that last ditch meeting in London which could make or break you and your family. Imagine being happy instead of annoyed to be reminded that next Monday is a bank holiday.

Starting or running a business is like a war without a ceasefire and I have seen so many great veterans fall. I’ve watched them struggle with the “going again” part but being deeply ashamed to admit that they are struggling inside. Startup culture in Ireland is growing and that’s great. Culturally though I think we need to try and manage expectations. Yes the Collison brothers are from Limerick, yes they are worth a staggering 2.2 billion but they are an exception to the norm and don’t forget, they first went to Massachusetts IT before Silicon Valley’s elite backed them. They also did not have families and children to support adding to their scales of risk.

Celebrating raising money or focussing on that rather than trading is something that appears to be creeping in. Think about it. On one hand, you have Joe the plumber who employs 5 people and is trading away with a positive cash balance. On the other, you have Aine who has just raised 1.2 million to develop a piece of software for the insurance industry. Who do you think has the bigger or more successful business?

I say fair play to both because we need one to trade and one to try but let’s not value one more than the other.

I would say as a country we have a huge opportunity for innovation. It’s not IOT or Blockchain, it’s about how we support startups, traders, and big ideas, but more importantly the person. It’s not always just about money. I don’t want to see the next big trend on the horizon being a big mental health one. People have to know there is more that defines them than just their business!

Innovation As A Lifestyle #52 #cong17


I have lived in six different places over the last two and a half years. Each place was miles apart from the last, gave me a new job each time, and had no friends or colleagues when I got there. This is the personal story of how I’ve turned my mindset to innovation by repeatedly re-creating the definition of home for myself with each new move.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Innovation is just as relevant in a personal environment as a professional one
  2. Defining personal development as finding new solutions to each changing situation that arises
  3. Innovation is a mindset that can be chosen and developed
  4. Treat your own life like a continual innovative process and seek out change.

About Kelsey Roberts:

My current role is as a TechInnovate fellow at NUI Galway, a technology innovation programme in which I am conducting research on discovering unmet market needs in agriculture and commercialisation processes for entrepreneurship. In the past I have been in operations for a large healthcare company acting as an engineer, project manager, and team supervisor in a manufacturing setting. My passions include inspiring youth in education and science and driving new innovations to success.

Contacting Kelsey Roberts:

You can connect with Kelsey on LinkedIn.

By Kelsey Roberts.

It all began with an introverted, sentimental, but determined me beginning a job with a big multinational that I knew would require me to move to four different locations for six months each, changing jobs within the company at each new site. The thought of this both scared and excited me, I knew I wasn’t fully comfortable with it and I set out to attempt to increase my personal tolerance for change. I put on some sappy songs on the car stereo and cried throughout the drive leaving my then home, Atlanta, Georgia, and driving away from the closest friends I had made thus far in my life (and fortunately many of whom remain that to this day, even many miles and time zones apart).

My first new home was Columbus, Ohio – a place I knew little about other than the religious-like following of their prized college football team, Ohio State, fresh off the win of a national championship the year before. That excitement aside, it took me months in Ohio to figure out how to not only support a college football team that wasn’t my own, but also find and create friendships within a working life structured with defined hours and business trips. I spent months being lonely and missing Atlanta, but over time I found some groups to fill my time and that void with. I learned how to be content with loneliness and gained the self-awareness to acknowledge that it’s a natural feeling, and I innovated to find coping techniques to deal with it.

Only a few months of finally getting settled in to Ohio and my next move was sprung on me – I was given about four weeks’ notice that I would be moving to Chicago, Illinois. The next challenge to tackle in this move was finding housing. Even though I knew the neighbourhood of the city that I liked, seeking out a stranger to live with was a new experience for me, and made me test out a new skill of quickly analysing a personality over a 10 minute chat and making a decision about something as big as who to live with based on that brief analysis. Over my next months, I re-created a new life for myself by making new friends, discovering a passion for tutoring kids, and even learning from some mistakes that involved a few too many pints (well, the American-sized pints). I had not created the perfect concoction of a life yet – but I felt steps closer in my journey by finding and recognising passions and people that made me happy.

As in any true innovation process, my life was iterated and changed as soon as I began testing out one version of it and I was off to a new place – this time to the small town of Altavista, Virgina, a big change from the urban cities I had previously called home. Altavista is filled with Southern hospitality and strong family values, but when it comes to religious and political standings it has a vastly different environment than I was raised in. Coincidentally, this move came in the fall of 2016, just in time for the gearing up of campaigning for the U.S. Presidential Election. A true fish out of water, my political beliefs differed from most of my colleagues, and this time innovating my life meant finding ways to connect with people when you come from a different background. But, this process grew to feel natural quickly and became incredibly impactful as I formed some of the most inspirational connections of my life here. I also fell in love with the job I had here – another piece of my life that brought the greatest professional challenges I had faced to date, and subsequently gave me the greatest reward through a true sense of fulfilment in mastering new solutions to those challenges each day. The changes I went through in my attitude for empathising with others, my ability to relate to and connect with new people, and the revolution of finding happiness in an unexpected job made this stop in my life a true example of innovation hard at work.

Now leaving Altavista was one of the hardest experiences of my life, a new feeling of being utterly unprepared to move on from a phase but being ripped away regardless. But the innovation of life does not stop and my journey was still ongoing – so I grabbed my passport and headed across the ocean to move to Ireland. Clonmel in Tipperary was the last of my four assignments with this multinational company, and met me with another new job role, new colleagues and friends, and a new side of the road to drive on. After making improvements finding personal hobbies and creating friends through my last three moves, the thought of meeting new people was no longer scary and I was ready to embrace creating a new social life in Ireland. What I honestly didn’t expect was to have my accent recognised for American so instantly (shocking that I thought it would blend in, as I now know). Here, no amount of relating to or connecting with the people and culture would hide my forever obvious accent. I had to restructure my own expectations for my identity, again adapting my innovation process and to meet the needs of this new country and how I saw my life here. At this point the challenge of changing my perspective and strategies to fit a new situation was familiar and ultimately enjoyable and fulfilling. I began seeking out new ways in which I could change my life to continue developing and growing in the fastest way possible.

My sixth and final move that I will share with you today (although by no means final in my life), came when I left the multinational I was working for and changed my career to move to Galway and pursue entrepreneurship and innovation research at NUI Galway. Until sitting down to write this post, I didn’t fully realise how fitting it is that my new work involves studying innovation full-time, when innovation has become the biggest hallmark of my life over the past few years. I could not have gone through as many life changes as I have without adopting a mindset of continual innovation on a personal level, and I would not have developed this mindset in the same way without the repeated changes that my life was thrust into. At this point, making changes has become almost addicting in a way, and I know my life is a journey ripe for innovation at every corner. I’ve learned countless new skills and developed my personality along the way, but the greatest way in which I have adapted is simply by embracing innovation as a lifestyle and all the challenges and thrills that come along with that. Here’s to the next changes we will all make in our lives, both big and small, and to keeping the mindset that life is meant to always be innovated!

Bridging the Gap Between Communication and Connection #53 #cong17


In the “new media” era, it has never been more important for companies to constantly innovate in how they communicate with their online communities.

The ever-increasing range of platforms create an incredible opportunity for brands to connect with their audiences in new, creative and engaging ways.

However, the era also brings countless challenges as companies must always be ready to adapt to the new ways in which consumers access and process content, whether it be through language, visuals or a combination of the two.

At, which was founded in 2010, we have been at the frontline of the ever-changing face of online communications and have had to constantly innovate in order to deliver our message to audiences in ways that will add most value to them.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Social media marketing communication is a two way street, be open for engagement with your community, be it inquisitive, positive or critical.
  2. Language is fluid and changeable, don’t be afraid to play around with new ways of communicating your message in your copy.
  3. Technology moves at breakneck speed, to keep ahead of the curve, constant maintenance is required. Don’t assume that community management methods you put in place a year or even 6 months ago are still relevant.
  4. Adapt your messaging to suit the format/channel/platform you’re using. Understand the environment in which your marketing messages are going to be consumed.

About Robyn Hamilton:

Robyn Hamilton works as a copywriter and online content creator for comparison switching site, She developed her interest in content marketing while pursuing her Master’s Degree In Advertising at the Dublin Institute of Technology. Before that, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies and French at Trinity College Dublin.

Contacting Robyn Hamilton:

You can follow Robyn on Twitter or email her.

By Robyn Hamilton.

The impact of digitalisation on the craft of copywriting

Back in 2016, I researched and wrote my Master’s dissertation exploring the impact of digital on the craft of copywriting in marketing communications. Fast forward a year and a half, and I find that many of the resulting insights from my study are having a direct impact on the work I’m currently carrying out in the communications department of personal finance website,

In pre-digital days, the copywriter’s primary role was to write marketing copy that engaged the consumer’s attention in a creative way, to leave a lasting and memorable impression – and preferably drive an action. These remain the core duties of a good copywriter but the role now also entails a whole host of other skills. It’s no longer just about the ability to write creatively; nowadays to write effective copy that engages, encourages and enables sharing, the copywriter has to consider communication objectives, online platforms, digital devices, keywords, plus social media formats, and data analytics in addition to being able to write to entertain and inform. And let’s not forget that everything now also needs to be done in half the time or less – digitalisation has dramatically sped up every part of the marketing communication process; including research, production, processing and dissemination.

New media means new ways of communicating

The introduction and mass proliferation of a new kind of interactive marketing communication model, made possible by the rise of social media networks, means that marketing messages are now a two-way street. Interactivity between brand and consumer means tone of voice and the ability to communicate ‘with’ rather than ‘at’ the consumer is key. Copy needs to be less imperative and more conversational, friendly and approachable in tone. In other words, it needs to speak in the vernacular of its various audiences and be open to response and dialogue.

We are well and truly past the birth of the digital era, but there can be a lag in implementing new theories and models of communication to effective use, especially considering the light-speed at which technology is progressing when it comes to online marketing messaging. This, indeed, is where innovation is required.

Implementation in action at

Hired as a copywriter and online content creator for back in March of this year, I am very proud to have played a key role in the ongoing development and innovation of our online communications strategy, with a particular focus on social media.

When I began working for, there were a number of elements to our communications strategy that remained constant and had been so for some time. Between the members of our team, we aimed to write and publish at least one post to our company blog per day. Said post would then be circulated on our primary social media channels including Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus and Twitter. We would then respond to any questions or comments made on those posts. Once a week we would host a live round-up video on Facebook, summarising the main news in personal finance for that week. Finally, once a month we would send out an email newsletter to a list of subscribers, rounding up the month’s news, including relevant links to blog posts written throughout the month.

These were our three main methods of community management and communication, and though effective in their own right, like any ongoing process, they warranted continued monitoring and development to work towards a goal of amelioration.

We knew that our content was adding value in the short-term (when the content was published), but we began to consider ways to build long-lasting relationships through ongoing interaction and engagement. We were very focused on volume output and not enough on community engagement to ensure that our messages were being heard and engaged with; in other words we were talking ‘at’, but now it was time to talk ‘with’ the consumer, as discussed earlier.

Developing a new tone of voice

Noting this, we decided to overhaul how we approached our communications, with a particular focus on social media. In terms of copy, the first thing we decided to change significantly was the company’s tone of voice. Up until this point we had endeavoured to sound authoritative, informative but friendly and fairly approachable. With our primary goal to increase community engagement, we decided to adopt a more familiar and conversational to encourage interaction. Consequently, in addition to familiarising our language with colloquialisms and occasional slang, we began capitalising more on topical hashtags, as well as using popular emoji shorthand or gif reactions where relevant or appropriate. In conjunction with this move, we began to invest a lot more time interacting with customers in comments sections, via retweets and in direct/private messages.

Adapting content to new environments

With a new video production assistant joining the team in August, we also began looking into ways to innovate and dramatically improve our video output. Taking into account today’s average newsfeed, cluttered as it is with videos all demanding attention, we moved focus away from long live videos and towards shorter, pre-recorded, edited and overall better produced segments. Many of these pieces are more ‘evergreen’ and less topical in nature, and consequently have a longer shelf life in terms of relevance to our customers. To maximise views and engagement we also adapted video output formats; opting for a square portrait view (as opposed to landscape) for Facebook videos, which makes videos easier to view on smartphone screens and also adding subtitles to all videos, taking into account that the majority of videos watched on social media are watched with the sound off.

The results 

So, you must be wondering? Did all, and does all of this ongoing innovation have a significant impact? Well let’s take a look at some examples. Below you can view a snapshot of our Twitter analytics for the month of October 2016 as compared to October 2017, which more or less speak for themselves:

Despite the fact that the volume output of tweets did not largely change; impressions, profile visits, mentions and new followers dramatically increased. In the two further examples below we’ve taken our top tweet from October 2016 and our top tweet from the same month the following year. These examples demonstrate perfectly the contrast between our old strategy and the new one.

In the 2016 example, the language used is friendly but somewhat formal in nature, lacking personality and the tweet itself is fairly functional. In the 2017 example, we have utilised a few of examples discussed earlier. First of all, we capitalised on a trending hashtag of the day #Ophelia, which of course referenced hurricane Ophelia which was battering the country that day. The tone is familiar and somewhat cheeky, utilising emojis to suggest that people use their downtown at home sheltering from the storm to switch their gas and electricity and consequently drive traffic towards our website.


When I began pursuing a career in copywriting and content marketing, I didn’t anticipate just how much innovation goes into the daily upkeep to stay ahead of the curve outside of the ideation process for content creation but I can’t deny that I relish the opportunity to greet new challenges every day. I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.

We Make Pesto, Not iPhones! #60 #cong17


Enterprise support agencies regularly struggle to connect start-ups and small businesses with the range of supports available to de-risk the innovation process. Although by definition most small businesses are intrinsically innovative, most of them don’t perceive that to be the case. What does this mean in the context of driving a culture of innovation?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. There are significant supports available in Ireland to support the innovation process. From the Local Enterprise Office to Enterprise Ireland to SFI, etc.
  2. Many enterprise support agencies report low levels of take up of these innovation supports.
  3. These agencies need to work harder to ensure they find a language that connects with micro enterprises.
  4. There is massive potential associated with plugging the disconnect between the guy who makes pesto and Horizon 2020.

About John Magee:

John Magee is Acting Head of Enterprise, Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Mayo. The LEO is the first stop shop for enterprise support targeted at micro businesses. The LEO is part of Mayo County Council and plays a key role in promoting enterprise development and a culture of entrepreneurship at the local level.

Mayo County Council under the channel is delighted to be able to support Congregation and we’re thrilled to welcome attendees to beautiful Co Mayo, the Heartbeat of the Wild Atlantic Way. Via a wide range of programmes and initiatives we are working hard to position Mayo as a location for investment, world class business development and as place where ideas are explored and celebrated.

Contacting John Magee:

You can contact John by email or conenct with him on Twitter.

By John Magee.

Why is it so difficult to connect start-ups & small businesses with the extensive range of supports available from the state to support product innovation?

As someone who works in the enterprise support arena, this is a question I regularly struggle with. Although it is often the case that the default thought process for many starting out in business is “sure there is no help available”, the truth is quite different. Ireland Inc has an excellent start-up support infrastructure, with over 170 different supports available to business, many of them aiming to de-risk the innovation process for early stage businesses. But the take up on many of these is quite low. Why is this? Why is there such a disconnect between available support and take up?

There is no easy, or single, answer to this. I think it has something to do with a fundamental misunderstanding of what innovation looks and feels like and a perception that innovation is an activity reserved for ‘big’ businesses or those in specific sectors. When the pesto manufacturer pointed out to me that he wasn’t making iPhones he was reflecting his view that innovation wasn’t at the forefront of his thought process. Having talked through his own approach to manufacturing a high quality product he accepted that there may be a few things he did that set his product apart from others in the marketplace and yes, he did have some further ideas that could benefit from technical support. Yes, his product tasted better because it was prepared differently. But innovation? Well that was a grudging acceptance.

So, partly it is a failure to recognise the basic simplicity of innovation. It isn’t about a new gadget, nor about adding a new feature to an existing one. It is often about taking features out… making things simpler.  My pesto friend was creating a better customer experience by simplifying the product – real innovation.

This experience is in no way unusual. Try getting the small business community to attend a seminar or workshop on innovation. It’s a proper struggle. The real paradox here is that for most small companies they must be intrinsically innovative in order to get any significant traction in the marketplace in the first instance. Otherwise they’ll immediately come up against a better resourced or longer established incumbent. The disconnect, therefore, must relate to their own perception or understanding of their activity, relative to their perception of what constitutes innovation. Effectively they simply don’t think of themselves as being in the innovation arena.

A follow on question is therefore whether this inhibits the cultivation of a genuine culture of innovation in small business. If so many business owners instinctively recoil from viewing their activity as being innovative, then how can we expect them to invest in innovation or seek innovation support as they become established? How can we expect them to seek support to develop the next iteration, simplification or new product?

Or does it actually matter at all? Ireland ranks in the top 10 countries in the world in the Global Entrepreneurship Index, so we’re getting a lot right. Our small business sector remains the main engine behind new job creation nationally. It remains the case that micro enterprises actually have an innovation advantage in that they’re more nimble, flexible and innovative by definition.

We should also remember that start-ups and small businesses are not the same thing. Innovation is more intrinsic for a start-up, but not necessarily a more established small business. Start-ups might be more open to the various supports available, but for a variety of reasons they might not have the financial capacity, energy or operating ‘space’ to allow them to access innovation supports, whether training or programmatic. Proper targeting of supports is therefore essential.

It seems that in terms of supporting micro enterprises there is a constant need to demystify innovation, how it works and how it can be developed and supported. An integral element is to the consider whether the professional working in the enterprise support space truly understands innovation and its related dynamics. If these professionals struggle with the concept, then they’re poorly placed to positon and sell the range of innovation supports available. Perhaps greater emphasis needs to be placed on the advertising / packaging / explanation of innovation supports.

Given the various areas where the disconnect can and does occur… it’s hard to escape the simple realisation that many small businesses are more innovative than we all realise. It is also hard to avoid thinking of what might be achieved if we could plug the gaps and align supports with perceptions and invent a language around innovation that fosters greater business and agency engagement!

My friend who makes pesto… he is at the cutting edge of innovation. For him. And that’s all that matters really.