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!

Champion or Underperformer #16 #cong18


Ideas are worthless unless they can be delivered on time, to budget and achieving the anticipated benefits.
Delivery is usually by means of a project, programme or change activity but success in doing so is variable.
This blog describes an assurance process that significantly increases the likelihood of success and has been well proven in many other countries and businesses.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Independent peer review, a critical friend
  2. Supportive to the idea owner and delivery team
  3. A snapshot in the lifecycle of an idea
  4. Virtuous spiral of improvement

About Paul Passemard:

I am an engineer by background with 25 years experience in the oil industry in operations and major project and programme delivery. At the height of the UK’s North Sea Oil development I managed an oil industry consortium aimed at improving the performance of suppliers to the offshore industry
In 1989 I formed a management consultancy focussing on quality assurance and high performance team working. Through assignments with the UK’s HM Treasury I played a key role in developing the Gateway Process and rolling it out across central government departments and local authorities.
I am an experienced Gateway Reviewer and have led major project and programme reviews across the UK.

Contacting Paul Passemard:

You can contact Paul by eMail.

By Paul Passemard

Are you and your business a Champion or an Underperformer when it comes to taking ideas and delivering them as projects to a successful conclusion?
In 2013 50% of businesses surveyed by the Project Management Institute (PMI based in the UK) experienced an IT project failure. In 2014 it fell to 32% but rose again in 2016 to 55%.
Last year (2017) PMI used a slightly different approach and it separated respondents to the survey into Champions and Underperformers
Champions are those organisations that see 80% or more of ideas / projects being completed on-time, on-budget and meeting original goals and business intent, and that have high benefits realization maturity. In other words, their ideas / projects deliver the promised business outcomes.
Underperformers are those organisations that see 60% or fewer ideas / projects completed on-time, on-budget and meeting original goals and business intent, and with low benefits realisation maturity.
The research showed that within these categories, only 6% of Champions experienced ideas / projects deemed failures, compared to 24% of Underperformers. Overall, all organisations reduced the average amount of money wasted on progressing ideas. projects and programmes by 20% compared to the previous year.
Some reasons for the improvement:-
• maturing project management techniques – use of a project management office
• skilled project managers
• focus on benefits realisation
• peer engagement and assurance techniques.

Much has already been written about project (and programme) management techniques but I would like to describe an assurance process that has been effectively used in the public and private sectors to significantly increase the likelihood of delivering ideas, projects, programmes and other change activities on time, to budget and achieving the expected benefits. The process has been adopted across the public sectors in many developed countries in the western world. Sadly, although it is widely used across the public sector in Northern Ireland, the Republic has so far not adopted it.
Private sector businesses and industries have used the process for many years and have developed their own variations.
It is called the Gateway process and is a series of independent peer reviews at key stages of a project’s lifecycle, aimed at ensuring its successful delivery.
The process provides an objective view of the ability of a project to deliver on time and to budget.
It is not part of the project management process but runs in parallel with it and dips in at key decision stages..
The review is top down, evidence-based and involves interviews with key stakeholders culminating in a report, delivered to the project owner (the Senior Responsible Owner, SRO in government speak) on the final day of the review. This report is confidential to the SRO, containing recommendations based on the review team’s findings. In light of the recommendations, a Delivery Confidence Assessment (DCA) is awarded, indicating the potential for successful delivery.
The confidentiality aspect is important as the review is not seen as punitive or blaming anyone and project teams regard them as helpful and supportive.
A Gateway review is not an audit or a forensic examination of what has happened to date. It will only look backwards sufficiently to understand the current status and position of the project. The focus then is on the future and aims to identify risks that could derail or adversely affect the delivery of the idea / project.
Review teams are made up of independent, experienced practitioners who bring their prior knowledge and skills to bear to identify the key issues that need to be addressed for the project to succeed.
Interviews with key members of the project team may sound a bit intimidating but in reality they are more like fireside discussions. The ground rules are that project team members are interviewed individually so they can be open and honest, what they say is unattributable, they are not named in the report and if they identify an issue the review team will triangulate and test with other interviewees to establish that it is an issue perceived by more than one person and not just an individual having a personal gripe.
The Gateway process may sound a bit cumbersome and require too much effort for simpler ideas and smaller projects. The process can however be scaled to suit the size and complexity of the project and it is usual to set a de minimis cut off point.
Gateway reviews can be carried out at any time in the life of an idea / project.
Typically the key decision points are:-

  • strategic assessment
  • business justification
  • delivery strategy
  • investment decision
  • readiness for service
  • operations review and benefits realisation.

But the process is flexible and if a project owner senses that all is not well they can call in a Gateway review.
One question that is often asked is – do the reviewers need special knowledge about a particular project or programme? This aspect is often covered by having one member on the review team who has some expertise in the area concerned. However it is not essential as the issues that emerge are almost never to do with the technology of the project: they are invariably about the management, organisation and resources allocated to the activity.
There is good documentation of the areas that a review team should probe but it is not a strait jacket and experienced reviewers quickly home in on the real issues.
From an analysis of past reviews the following are some of the main causes of ideas / project and programme failure:-

  • Poorly defined scope
  • Inadequate risk management and failure to identify key assumptions
  • Programme and project managers who lack experience and training
  • No use of formal methods and strategies
  • Lack of effective governance (decision making) and communication at all levels

Brain Storming, Machine Learning, Humor and the Origin of Ideas #15 #cong18


Brainstorming, machine learning, and humor follow similar paths to divergent results. In this talk I explore how such similar paths can lead to such dissimilar outcomes and what we can infer about the nature of ideas from them.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas are built by following a logical progression of understanding about the nature of things.
  2. Humor is a twist in the tail of that progression.
  3. Brainstorming is equivalent to taking the humor result and finding a way back to the reasonable.
  4. Machine learning is the artificial development of the logical progression.

About Claude Warren:

I am Claude Warren the lead innovator at Wipro Galway. I have a deep interest in innovation, ideas and where they come from and how to promote their development. I first presented at Congregation last year when I spoke about the environment that is necessary to promote innovation. Here I take that presentation further and explore the nexus from which ideas spring.

Contacting Claude Warren:

You can contact Claude by eMail.

By Claude Warren

A group of mad scientists sitting around the lab. An event is about to start. The rules are simple: no idea is too far fetched, no idea is stupid. Reasonable ideas start the conversation but the concepts grow wilder and wilder as the suggestions come thick and fast. Until someone says: “You know you could do that if we did this.”

Software reviews thousands of points of data, analyzing each and understanding how they fit together by understanding when they occur at togeter at a nexus. The program moves step by step through the possibilities picking out the most likely path. Machine learning, discovering and following paths.

All three evolve from the ability to create and follow a logical progression. The comedian takes the logical progression and at the comedic break brings the listener up short and exposes a foible in the assumptions of the progression. The sudden shift that is still logically achievable is the base of humor.

The mad scientists brainstorming take the logical progression beyond reasonable and then bring it back again with a shift in the assumptions of the progression. Suddenly there is insight into the problem.

Software simply attempts to deduce the expected outcome, but could it be “taught” to make the unexpected leap to a different interpretation of the logical progression? If so could that be humor, or perhaps more frighteningly, could that be like the result of a brainstorm an autonomous idea?

The Future of Innovative Ideas #14 #cong18


Driven by the vast amounts of data users generate and sensor technology, narrow forms of artificial intelligence may increase their capacity to solve business problems, loosening humans’ monopoly on innovative idea generation.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Humans may not have a monopoly on innovative idea generation
  2. AI may be able to tackle user problems
  3. Coming up with innovative ideas may be approached as a function of customer desirability, technical feasibility and financial viability.
  4. AI-driven flash innovation may address increasingly complex business problems

About Victor del Rosal:

Victor del Rosal is a lecturer in Innovation and Emerging Technologies at National College of Ireland in Dublin. Author of the book: Disruption: Emerging Technologies and the Future of Work

Contacting Victor del Rosal:

You can contact Victor on LinkedIn.

By Victor del Rosal

I used to tell students that coming up with innovative ideas was reserved for humans. Nowadays I make sure that I add a clause: “at least for a few more years”. With advances in AI, we may not have a monopoly on innovation.

If this seems far-fetched, there are a few examples to draw from. We used to think for example that driving a car was a human-only endeavour. It turns out that autonomous vehicles are much better at it.  Similarly, playing—never mind winning—a highly complex game like Go seemed to be out of bounds for humans. In both cases narrow forms of artificial intelligence (ANI) have proved to be better than humans at solving complex problems.

Could algorithms come up with innovative business ideas? Could AI “think” of creative ideas to solve real-world problems?

Defining innovative ideas

Coming up with novel ideas is only one aspect of innovation. Most entrepreneurs will agree that the urgency of the pain point drives innovation. That is, unless you start with a real need, an urgent problem to solve, you will be wasting your time building something few customers would be willing to pay for.

According to design thinking, the sweet spot of innovation is found at the intersection of customer desirability, technical feasibility and financial viability. In other words, innovation is about solving relevant problems, feasibly and profitably.

Innovation as an algorithmic problem

If innovation is approached as an optimisation problem that includes the desirability, feasibility and viability variables, could AI possibly optimise the function and come up with innovative propositions?

For the purpose of this thought exercise it will be assumed that the technical feasibility and financial viability could be successfully crunched by AI. That leaves customer desirability. Could AI pinpoint specific customer pain points or needs? The key could be in data streams.

Swimming in data

Today, our smartphones alone can gather copious amounts of information. A mid-market smartphone nowadays  typically includes a magnetometer, GPS, gyroscope, accelerometer, proximity sensors, barometer, light sensor, fingerprint scanner, air humidity sensor, camera, microphone, heart rate monitor, pedometer (step counter), thermometer. The creative analysis of information from these sensors can generate highly useful insights. And as sensors become more sophisticated and wearable tech gains more traction it could be argued that this avenue of data ingestion will get bigger and more useful.

We are the sensors: Google Traffic

A simple example of how these sensors produce insights today is demonstrated by Google Traffic. If you zoom in at the street level in some cities you will be able to see streets coloured in red, orange, or green, depending on how busy a street is. What may not be so evident is that these colour codes are generated by analysing the GPS locations sent to Google by swarms of mobile phone users. In other words, we provide the sensors. If a lot of us are moving very slowly in traffic, this will be reflected on Google Maps.


Imagine that in addition to full access to sensor data we also give our phone permission to actively listen to conversations and to glean insights from anything we write (which we already do). Finally let’s say that we grant an algorithm the permission to offer us a product or service that would satisfy a need in a specific moment of need. Amazon has patented an idea related to this.

Anticipatory shipping by Amazon

Amazon is exploring a predictive fulfilment model whereby an order would be shipped to your doorstep before you even know you want to order it, based on your purchase history and multiple other data points. Amazon has patented anticipatory shipping to ship you a product before you buy it. They reckon that, if they get their predictive algorithm right, they should know you well enough so that you will like what they send your way, only rejecting a miniscule amount of packages (you would be able to return or perhaps keep unwanted items at no cost to you).

AI-driven flash innovation

This general approach could be called AI-driven (customised/ ad hoc) flash innovation whereby solutions could be offered to individual users or to a limited number of users who share a particular pain point.

But again this would depend on the correct assessment of pain points based on what algorithms can glean and would, at first, not be able to understand the complex variety of verbal and non-verbal human communication, among other complexities.

Starting small

As with any startup idea, algorithms would test relatively simple business ideas limited to narrow contexts of low complexity. If these experiments go well, AI could move on to more sophisticated exercises leading to business models where users’ needs are assessed and fulfilled in a growing variety of settings.

This could mean that, in some limited settings and under certain conditions, humans would no longer need to come up with innovative ideas, AI would.

Playing with ideas

Carl Jung said that “the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct arising from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the object it loves.”

Coming up with innovative ideas, aka the game of innovation, will surely remain for a long, long time one of humanity’s favourite endeavours. The question is, to what extent will AI also play the game?

They are my customers and so I walk in their paw prints or building client relationships #13 #cong18


My life has been shaped by my experiences, some good, some not so good.
These experiences are what has made me, and have been added to my emotional knowledge data bank. This store of memories I regularly revisit, a bit like having my own Google search brain on board, one of the many dyslexic skills I was gifted with. Being dyslexic also gives me an ability to reverse engineer problems along with quick thinking.
Thoughts and ideas consume my brain most of the day.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Storytelling helps us to understand concepts quickly and makes them more memorable.
  2. Our brains have 50,000 thoughts a day according to the National Science Foundation of America, 95% which are repeated.
  3. The quieter voices of society are not always heard.
  4. Learning to walk in other people shoes also teaches empathy and makes us better people.
  5. I find storytelling a useful testing format to help me explain, to myself and others the many ideas that go through my head on a daily basis and where and why they originate

About Geraldine O'Brien:

I qualified from DIT in 1977 with a Dip I.D. I worked in New York and London using my design skills Then returning to Ireland in the 1980s worked with Kilkenny Design for six years before starting my own practice Geraldine O’Brien Design (1986-2009). My experience at Kilkenny Design influenced my freelance work considerably both as a designer and educator.

I have always sought variety in my interior/exhibition work and welcome the challenge and the opportunity for personal development. Projects have ranged from rehousing of Magdalen women to purpose built accommodation, refurbishment of a five storey Fitzwilliam Square Georgian house and mews, sheltered accommodation, nursing homes, general residential interiors and exhibitions for the craft industry.

I was commissioned by The Crafts Council of Ireland to deliver a training programme to benefit emerging crafts people across the country and developed a format incorporating lectures, mentoring and provision of workshops between 1986-1998.

Since 2009 I have been in practice with my husband in our firm McCarthy O’Brien Architects and Designers. MCOB in Dublin. We have two adult children in professional careers.

What is fundamental to the way I work, whether designing an interior, an exhibition or a craft display, is listening to the client or craft maker, getting to know their style and their story so as to create a space and ambience that preserves their individuality and help them create something special.

Contacting Geraldine O'Brien:

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

By Geraldine O’Brien

Our dogs need to be walked at least once on a daily basis.
On one of these recent daily adventures into the unknown, Grizz our border terrier, came to a full stop at the fork in the road. Pulling or dragging the lead made absolutely no difference. I was impatient as I was in a hurry to get back home to do more important ‘things’.

Stuck Dog Syndrome.
The Grizz enforced stop is what we now call his ‘stuck dog syndrome’ forced me to find a solution and as I bent down to lift him wriggling into my arms it struck me “Ah he wants to go to the beach”. One fork in the road was more concrete and similar to more ‘lead of torture’ he remembered from previous walks and the other was much more inviting as it led to the beach, soft sand and no lead and oh so much more interesting smells.
I empathised with him and I gave in.

Enjoying and seeing him revelling in his excitement in his new found freedom, made me ponder. How could I give him that enjoyment more regularly?

It was a beautiful day anyway and so off we went to the beach and I joined him pulling off my shoes allowing myself to follow in the soft sand of his paw tracks.
I recalled the endless pacing of Spunky, Dublin Zoo’s famous female polar bear who was constantly depressed and I wondered was I responsible for making our dogs lives miserable as I was the one who ruled their lives and decided when they got their dinner and walks. They had to be endlessly patient. I felt horrible and until now never realised I was their jailor in effect.

“Wouldn’t it be good if we had robots for dog walking ? You could programme his favorite routes and other fun activities. Robots are more patient than humans, won’t mind the wet etc”.

I soon realised it would take some time before that would happen and finding a patient fun dog walker was a better option for now.

I still like that idea and have hung on to it just in case.

Fast forward a couple of years we have now been joined by Grizz’s twin sister Meg. They are both very cute and clever in their own ways. I find it fascinating to see how they have different forms of intelligence a bit like observing the differences between my son and my daughter.

Grizz is much much bigger than Meg, He is much softer and gentler but still can’t open doors like she can. Meg on the other hand spent her early years on a farm and as the baby of the litter had to fight for her place. Grizz should be the Alpha Dog but it’s little Meg who calls the shots.

Our recent walks to the park have been unusually peppered by “stuck dog syndrome” so finding an empathic way to stop it was on my mind, recalling my idea of robot walkers.
Just as I went to let them off the ‘lead of torture’ I spied another dog in close proximity and had learned by now that this might not be such a good idea. Grizz and Meg had told me on many previous occasions they did not like boxers.

“That big fellow bit me when I was a puppy” Grizz.
“He scares me and sniffs me without asking my permission” Meg.

My daughter taught me ‘dog speak’ when she was young. She now walks in her customers shoes as she is a vet.

I decided to go the other way around the park and so as not to meet the boxer full on and hopefully have a less stressful walk for all of us, I released them. Off they danced delighted to be free, both in different directions. Grizz was more leisurely and Meg hared off into the undergrowth, I followed her as she is the more unpredictable. Thankfully Grizz followed me and when the initial excitement calmed I saw happy excited dogs and resolved to try and make their walks more exciting in future.

I was beginning to feel good about myself as we walked home. Then passing a building site a builder dropped a very noisy metal canister on the road which turned them into two very quaking dogs straining on the ‘lead of torture’ desperately trying to run away into what was the path of a fast oncoming car. Thankfully I was able to hang on to them.
The disgruntled car owner drove away shaking his head. It took a little while for all of us to calm down including the driver. Aware of all the sounds around us – cars, lorries, jackhammers, drilling, screeching, door slamming, etc. it was no wonder we all were trembling.

It took a while to reach home as they ran away from all manner of distractions, passing runners, baby buggies and other dogs. I felt sorry for them. Could this be a possible form of posttraumatic stress disorder developing ? For weeks afterwards there was lots of ‘stuck dog syndrome. We now vary our routes to the park on a daily basis to help their PTSD. We are learning to understand what they are thinking and so better able to give them a better life. I like to try and tune in to my Grizz and Meg as I am their human robot for now.
They are my customers and so I walk in their paw prints.

Lessons to self for everyday negotiated living and survival.

Our human lives are not too dissimilar to Grizz and Megs. We are all trying to negotiate the ups and downs of our daily lives, finding new ways and ideas to make our paths easier.
I am a daily disrupter of anything that in my opinion is broken. Size doesn’t matter I’ll give it a go with my busy mind.I am mindful that the development of ideas often are not fully worked out can be harmful or user unfriendly. For me ideas come from knowledge and understanding and being open to how ‘the idea’ will be used.

I discovered my own “I have a dream” idea to give anyone a simple way to tell their life story. LifeStor is about building a Digital Story Archive.
It is not an easy project to develop and is teaching me the virtue of patience. As part of the learning curve, I pursued a HDip. in Entrepreneurship in AIT in 2014.

Lesson to self:
Our lives are not too dissimilar to Grizz and Megs, we are all trying to negotiate our daily lives finding new ways and ideas to make our paths easier.

Dogs helping us humans with tasks is not far off. Perhaps robots for dog walking may become a possibility. I know some very clever dogs that would be happy to test it.
However, whether footprints or paw prints, walking in them builds relationships.

Fresh into Ideas #12 #cong18


Where does the word idea come from? What does the word idea mean? What does it mean to have an idea?

What about the tantalising idea or question as to whether there’s such a thing as an original idea. Does an idea come from within the individual mind or our collective consciousness?

Throughout history there have been countless examples of individuals or groups apparently coming up with the same idea independent of one another.

Our ability to have ideas about what ideas are, have ideas and execute those ideas to bring about new physical and social realities is what makes us unique as a species on this earth.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. How we think about and define ideas evolves over time
  2. Are ideas birthed in the individual mind or in our collective consciousness?
  3. Our ability to develop ideas and execute them makes us unique as a species
  4. Ideas are both our greatest power and our greatest responsibility

About Anne Tannam:

Anne Tannam is a Creative Coach and the author of two poetry collections ‘Take This Life’ (2011 WordOnTheStreet) and ‘Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor’ (2017 Salmon Poetry). Her third collection is forthcoming in 2020. Also a Spoken Word Artist, Anne has performed at festivals and events including Electric Picnic, Bloom, Craw Festival (Berlin) and Lingo. She travelled in 2016 to take up a writers’ residency in Chennai, India. Anne is co-founder of the weekly Dublin Writers’ Forum, an open and inclusive group that welcomes writers of all styles and levels of experience to share their work and expertise with one another.

Contacting Anne Tannam:

You can follow Anne on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, browse her thoughts on her website or send her an email.

By Anne Tannam

Any ideas about how to write about ideas? What is an idea? No idea? Where does the word ‘idea’ come from? Like so many words we use in English, its origin can be traced back to ancient Greek – Idein, meaning ‘to see’ and still in Greek, ‘Idea’, meaning ‘form or pattern’, then into Latin before finally turning up in Late Middle English.

What does it mean to have an idea? The word ‘idea’ has subtly different definitions and usages, which gives us some idea of how difficult it can be to talk about ideas without our head hurting a little. Here’s some of the definitions of the noun ‘an idea’:

1. A thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action
2. A mental impression
3. An opinion or belief
4. The aim or purpose

To confuse us even further, the concept of an idea was explored by philosophers who came up with their own definitions of what an idea is (where did they get the idea they could even do that?). For Plato an idea is defined as ‘an eternally existing pattern of which individual things in any class are imperfect copies’, and for Kant an idea is ‘a concept of pure reason, not empirically based in experience.’

We also have lots of informal phrases in English we use that put another slant on the idea of what an idea is. We have the classic usage so beloved of the Irish: ‘Whose your wan, getting ideas about herself? ‘ Or ‘Don’t be putting ideas into that fella’s head.’ Then there’s the ‘I’ve no idea what I’m talking about’ and the This is not my idea of a good time!’

What about the tantalising idea of whether there’s such a thing as an original idea. Does an idea come from within the individual mind or our collective consciousness? Throughout history there have been countless examples of individuals or groups apparently coming up with the same idea independent of one another. We’re all familiar with is the idea of taking an oral language and devising an alphabet to record it, and later, the idea of developing or devising a technology that would allow a people to print and publish those recordings (which allowed for the first time in human history ideas to spread far beyond the confines of one place or culture).

At different times and in different places, the written word emerged because someone who thought of the idea, stuck with it and ran with it. Or an idea, like a baton, is passed from one person to the next, each adding their own spin to it, before passing it on to the next person, often decades or even centuries later, until finally the idea is perfected and executed.

Of course there may have been many more who thought of the idea and didn’t run with it, just left it hanging there, unarticulated and unrealized.

Thinking about ideas can leave us feeling dizzy but our ability to have ideas about what ideas are, have ideas and execute those ideas to bring about new physical and social realities is what makes us unique as a species on this earth. ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ (see, I robbed that idea from a bloke called Stan Lee!).

As to the question of whether there is such a thing as a brand new idea; me, I like the idea that ideas can be both original and hand-me-downs at the same time. Take these blogs we’re writing: Eoin comes up with the idea of Ideas for the theme of this year’s Congregation (an idea that Eoin came up with a good few years ago, based on, but also departing from other people’s idea of what a conference is). We all came up with ideas for our blogs, drawing our inspiration from our own experiences and from the collective experiences of others. Many of us will have overlapping ideas but hopefully in our approach and execution we’ll bring something original to the table. Not a bad idea, eh?

Your Great Business Idea Is Completely Worthless #11 #cong18


Your great business idea is completely worthless.  Here’s what you can do about that.


4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Most “great business ideas” suck and are going to fail
  2. Validate your idea with real customers
  3. Fail as quickly as possible
  4. Iterate based on what you learned

About Alastair McDermott:

I specialize in helping consultants, speakers and published authors to increase their sales. Unlike other marketers, I focus on customer lifetime value before focusing on conversion optimisation. I’ve been building websites and software since 1996 and I blog, and make media of all kinds at WebsiteDoctor.

Contacting Alastair McDermott:

You can follow Alastair on Twitter, Facebook and his website.

By Alastair McDermott.

Have you ever heard someone at the bar say something along lines of “You see that guy making millions – I thought of that five years ago! That could be me!”

No, it couldn’t.

Because your great business idea had absolutely no value – unless you took action and implemented it.

An unimplemented business idea doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t have value until someone makes it happen.

Until you take a business idea and try and turn it into reality, you don’t really know whether it’s going to be truly valuable or not.

Implementing a business idea is the hard part. It takes time and effort, which are the easy ones, and often money and knowledge too, which can be more problematic. Often you need other people to help create the concept, explain the concept, and sell the concept. You need customers willing to open their wallets and give you their hard earned cash in exhange for your idea – implemented.

Wannabe entrepreneurs often encounter this issue: they think they have a great business idea, but they don’t want to tell anybody about it in case it’s stolen.

Here’s the truth:

1) Your idea probably sucks and is going to fail.
2) In the unlikely even that it doesn’t suck, very few people or companies are in a position to implement it.
3) Most people who could implement it are quite happily working on their own ideas, thank you very much.
4) Even if it is a good idea, and you are able to implement it, odds are still against you making a successful business from it – business is hard.

So what’s the solution? Give up?

No, not at all. What you want to do is try and fail. And fail fast. If it helps, you can call it “idea validation”, but have no doubt about this – what you’re trying to do is make the idea fail.

If it’s going to fail, you want it to fail fast – in fact you want it to fail as fast as possible, so that you can learn from it and test your next idea without having sunk too much time.

Testing a business idea is simple. First, you need to ignore what your family and friends tell you. Sorry, but they’re either way too positive, or way too negative for this. You need something a lot more reliable: a potential customer.

Create a working prototype, or a quick mockup. Or just explain the concept verbally.

Take this concept to real potential buyers. Explain it. Ask them for feedback and implement their suggestions. Then ask them to buy. If it’s not ready, make them a pre-sale offer.

(This is not as hard as it sounds – you’ve seen a thousand companies doing this on KickStarter. Book publishers have been doing it for years.)

If no one is biting, you need to change and iterate.

The trap.

There’s a big trap that you might fall into here (I did): “perfect is the enemy of the good”.

Do not worry about perfecting your product before you expose it to the market. If you wait to show it while you’re tweaking and polishing, you’re wasting time and resources. Speed of execution is key. Being too slow, or worse, stuck in analysis paralysis, will kill your idea and your enthusiasm.

My biggest failure.

SelfAssemblySites was a video training membership site I launched with my business partner in 2011. It was a site that taught website owners how to build and maintain their own websites with WordPress. It had over 100 training videos with how-to’s on every aspect of the process.

If you build it they will come.

MVP (Minimal Viable Product) was the exact opposite of what we did. We took the “if you build it they will come” approach. In fact, our product had bells and whistles with their own bells and whistles. When our competitors had 12 pieces of flare, we had over 100. We had automatic video resizing based on user preference and bandwidth levels, even audio-only versions of all content available to download.

We had a huge forum with subsections and further subsections, most of it populated with great questions and answers relevant to to the topic. We spent a long time on deciding the best ways to categorize and navigate the content. If at any point where there was a choice between me adding or improving a feature, vs promoting the product, we chose the former because what could help sell more but make a better product? (2018 me: “Testing the market, that’s what!”)

This “if you build it they will come” approach had a whole heap of effects and side-effects. One was that we spent so much time on product development that after the eventual launch I was near burn-out and didn’t have as much endurance to stick to it when the going got tough. The delay to the launch meant a shorter “runway” to work with before we ran out of our initial personal investments.

Validate your idea with real customers.

Validate your ideas before betting the bank on them. Watch what actual users do. Start with a minimal offering and add features only where users find value. Expect to make mistakes, stay flexible (and solvent) enough to keep re-iterating until you get it right. Make sure the founders discuss their perspective on how they envision the project going and see if that’s in alignment.

Get more feedback, implement the changes, test the market again. You’re learning a whole lot about the market (and the problems they encounter), the product and yourself all the time. You’ll eventually come to the point where you know it’s time drop the idea and chose something else.

Or you’re starting to get sales and market traction – well done, you have validated your idea! Now it’s time to grow your business.


“This time next year Rodney” #10 #cong18


Living with someone with Entrepreneurial tendencies is not easy. People who find it easy to come up with ideas sometimes take this for granted. Having a lot of ideas helps one to plan for the future and solve problems.
Delboy while always having the next big idea sometimes manages to nail it.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Embrace your ability to be creative
  2. Ideas don’t travel alone, you win some , you lose some
  3. Putting ideas out into the world is not always easy
  4. Sometimes Delboy wins

About Ailish Irvine:

A Freelance workshop facilitator, with good knowledge of Social Enterprise and Entrepreneurship supports. Wife and mother of 3, likes a good laugh with kind people. Loves travelling and is a long suffering Mayo GAA fan.

Contacting Ailish Irvine:

You can follow Ailish on Twitter, LinkedIn and her website.

By Ailish Irvine.

I often start sentences with “I just thought of a great idea” and hear a huge groan from my long-suffering husband. You see it’s Ok being the kind of person who comes up with ideas. It’s not great being the partner of one. They have to endure Dragon’s Den type pitches over the kitchen table. They sometimes have the cheek to interject with logical, rational arguments as to why your idea may not pay off the mortgage. They have to break the news to you and they have to rain on your parade.
You see sometimes I’m like Del Boy. His enthusiasm for the next big thing is infectious.

I always thought that this ability to come up with ideas was the worst affliction that a girl could have. I sometimes tried to stop the ideas from coming as with them they brought ridiculous things like hope, dreams and positivity. That can’t be good for the soul, can it?
I remember sitting round our sitting room in college telling a group of friends about some of my ideas. I didn’t even know back then that that I had the condition, I didn’t know that I was suffering from a small case of entrepreneurial spirit. Twenty-five years later and the ideas haven’t stopped, sometimes they appear in the middle of the night as I’m about to go to sleep. I awake in the morning to know that they escaped off into the unknown, because I didn’t treat them with the respect they deserved. I didn’t write them down when they appeared at will. I took them for granted.
I teach adults and I like to write. Having the ability to think off the top of your head when people ask you crazy questions is an undervalued attribute.  Convincing them that your response was a considered and knowledgeable one is also an ability unavailable on Linked in’s list of must have skills. It is important though most of all to encourage those with ideas
I know that I’m good at connecting ideas. Who knew that was a skill? I listen to people and I value their ideas. When I meet someone, else who feels the same way, I find a way of matching their ideas and connecting them up.
I love listening to other people’s ideas. The years and the 250 failed Dragon’s Den pitches across the kitchen table have taught me how to go gently with a person’s ideas. The many failures have taught me what not to do. They haven’t killed the spirit, but they have given me wisdom. They have allowed me to spot possible glitches or bugs and they help me to help others.
An idea does not travel alone, they travel in packs. The daft ones, the great ones, the life changing ones, the solutions, the unrealistic ones. You need to welcome them to stay en masse and then you need to know which ones to evict. Know that those who dream, don’t always have only good ideas, the few rogue ones slip in occasionally and you need to give employees the freedom to have them all.
It’s important to have ideas, it’s also important to know that they are not always good ones. It’s important to be around people who care and encourage you. If you have been  affected by any of themes here you need to head in the direction of Congregation. you may meet other sufferers and they may make you feel normal.
Remember Delboy does get his day.

Ideas and The Eagle #9 #cong18


Often ideas arise through “need or problem solving” whether it was the need to change, make money or because something is broken.  Throughout history things have become more complex as ideas have developed and the “needs/problems” of the human race have become more complex.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. The Eagle
  2. Problems
  3. Change
  4. Progress

About Carol Passemard:

I am in the business of transforming people’s lives.  My goal is to empower you to be Mindful and Encourage you to be the successful person you deserve to be. Imagine discovering the key that unlocks your full potential and in just 2 days!

Contacting Carol Passemard:

You can follow Carol on Facebook and her website.

By Carol Passemard

Recently Carmen came to work with me on a Breakthrough Retreat; she had travelled all the way from Brazil because she wanted to change the way things were in her life and had heard about me through a Brazilian friend I worked with a few years ago. Carmen brought with her a fascinating story about eagles. She told me this was why she was here and looking to change her own life just as the eagle did.

The Eagle story went like this: When an eagle reaches the age of 40 its talons become worn and they are unable to use them effectively to catch their prey, their sharp beaks become bent and their feathers are old, thick and heavy making flying more difficult.

It is said the eagle has the potential to live for 70 years but faced with two options – death or change.

In order to change the eagle flies up into the mountains to its nest and starts the process by knocking out it’s beak on the rocks so that a new beak can grow in its place. The eagle uses the new beak to pull out each talon and finally plucks out all of its feathers; allowing new talons and feathers to regrow. The whole process is laborious and painful but as the eagle is committed to living for another 30 years it is prepared to make these sacrifices.

I assured Carmen that she would not have to go through such a painful process working with me and that we had two days to get her to a place where she knew how to fly again!

My time with Carmen caused me to think about how we as a human race have evolved from early man as hunter gatherers to where we are now and that in fact it is through our need for change that we create new ideas whether it be to develop new tools to improve our efficiency in growing crops or in this day and age developing computers and the advent of artificial intelligence.

In the early years ideas developed slowly and the pace of life was dependent upon survival. Information around new ideas would have been passed on from generation to generation; through word of mouth and no doubt changed as newer generations developed their own ideas. Interesting books about the way we have developed are:

Spiral Dynamics by Don Edward Beck and Christopher C Cowen
Values and the Evolution of Consciousness by Adriana S. James

Often ideas arise through “need or problem solving” whether it was the need to change, make money or because something is broken.

Throughout history things have become more complex as ideas have developed and the “needs/problems” of the human race have become more complex.

We are at a stage in life where there are now many ways to solve problems and choice has become an integral part of our lives.

In the 21st century with the advent of social media we have too many places to go to look for solutions. I believe we have reached an overload point

Here are 13 simple techniques that you may consider when faced with a problem that you want to fix and create new ideas:

1. What is the problem?
2. What do you have now?
3. Why do you need to change?
4. What specifically would you like instead?
5. What will this outcome do for you?
6. How are you going to know when you have come up with the best idea to fix your problem?
7. What are you going to see, hear, feel and say to yourself when you have come up with the best idea to resolve your problem?
8. Are there any negative emotions coming up that may stop you from achieving what you want to achieve?
9. When do you need to take action with your new idea?
10. Are there any specific benchmarks or timescales to consider?
11. What is your budget?
12. What is your idea going to get for you?
13. How committed are you to making this happen?

By answering these questions you can start to come up with thoughts and ideas that have the potential to overcome your problem.

If you already have a brilliant idea for something; find out if others have come up with similar problems and maybe your solution/idea could help them; in which case it becomes a possible way of making money. Or indeed they may have already come up with an idea the same as yours.

Make sure you do plenty of market research before you go too far down the route of developing your idea.

Create a business strategy and know when you need to stop if things are not quite going according to plan! This will save you time, money and stress.

If your idea is original, viable and attractive to others you will be in a much better position to sell it.

Where are our ideas going to take us in the future? Well we can continue to develop and grow through our ideas ensuring that they are not only beneficial for ourselves and our wider community but we also need to start thinking about what impact our idea is going to have on the planet. If we just create ideas that benefit our own pockets we are in danger destroying our precious planet.

Once the eagle has gone through its process of change it can go on living for another 30 years gliding around on the thermals, feeding on its most favoured prey and continue being the magnificent bird it was born to be.

Watch Carol’s submission below.

Listen to Carol’s #cong18 submission ‘Ideas and the Eagle’.

The complexity of simple ideas #8 #cong18


A simple change can harness the insights of all.

4 Key Takeaways:

I. Ideas that are most simple may be complex
D. Different perspectives enrich ideas
E. Empathy enhances ideas
A. Allow time for ideas to ferment

About Mags Amond:

Retired from a first lifetime as a second level teacher, currently pursuing PhD (part time and from afar) at Trinity College Dublin. Researching TeachMeet, an evolving unconference during which teachers share ideas in a convivial atmosphere..

Contacting Mags Amond:

You can contact Mags by email, follow her on Twitter and her website.

By Mags Amond

The idea for my blog post came from my reflection on acting as a Chair at the CongRegation unconference.
Unconferences turn the standard conference upside down, shaking out its pockets so we can gather up and keep the good stuff that falls out – the breaktime chatter, the social discourse, the cross-pollination that enhances DNA. The central attraction of the unconference concept (introduced in the 1980s by Harrison Owen as Open Space and adopted and evolved widely (think Barcamp, think Pecha Kucha or Ignite!, think TeachMeet)), is summed up nicely in Winer’s Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences – The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.
Switching mode from conference to unconference, while suggesting a simplification of the process – inviting attendees to also be presenters, rotating the menu from hierarchical top down to a more democratic landscape – calls for a more complex level of curation and nuanced management of people, space and time. The chair, cathaoirleach, facilitator, while staying on the edge of the forum and letting the participants engage, needs an ‘always on’ approach combined with the light touch that leaves participants feeling that everything has been aired, and everyone has been included.
Weaving these complexities well is what can make an unconference format like the ‘huddle’ of CongRegation such a successful idea. Simple!