The Story Behind the CongRegation Themes

CongRegation has morphed and grown since the first incarnation experiment in 2013 although the fundamental structure of what makes it special has remained the same.

One of the key things that changes annually has been the theme and interestingly the original theme of ‘Social Media’ still features strongly in some people’s perception of the event.  Let me take you through the evolution to this years theme.

The first year focused on social media which as a sector was still evolving and needed lots of discussion and guidance.  We gave options to people about submissions ranging from Case Study, Tips, How to Guide through to a what was called a ‘Rant’ (positive or negative perspective on the topic).  Most submissions took the form of a leadership type piece essentially a smart positive rant, where opinions were given space to be elaborated, dissected, reassembled and made ready for discussion.  It was clear that this was the type of contribution and form that people were naturally more attracted to but is the most difficult of all the options.  It takes time to narrow down the vast choices, percolate the ideas, build a reasonable case, research, compose, edit, test, rethink and finally submit.

This single choice of submission was carried into year 2 but the theme broaden out a bit to include digital media, partially as a reaction to the broader nature of year one submissions.  Rather than just document work done, attendees wished to dig deeper and ponder the topic at a more challenging level, rather than just deliver a blog post that could have featured on a regular social media blog. This was the what I saw as the emergence of what I called the ‘Mental Itch’.  We are surrounded by all the theme areas but we rarely really question them or construct our thoughts into a robust argument or stance.  In a world of twitter, microcontent and limited attention span long form content forces us to consider things with a bit more depth, sometimes to quite personal self reflective areas.  We are also all incredibly busy and possibly don’t reward ourselves with higher debate and thinking when stuck in the now.

Year 3 became a bit more challenge focused with the theme exploring the impact of technology on work and personal lives. This evolved from conversations at year two as personal impacts were questioned.  As the diversity of attendees expanded and as the curious nature of attendees grew there was a collective desire to look at something bigger and tap into the collective mindsets.  If my observation from year two was around the general willingness to tested (submission and conversations on the day) year 3 taught me that the more meaningful content frequently involved peeling back layers of the onion to really see what, who was ticking.  This happens naturally during the day in Cong but year 3 contributions contained not just smart insights but also deeper personal perspective.

Year 4 ‘The Future’ emerged as a natural extension of the Year 3 theme of the impact of technology on our lives.  Technology has a role but it’s not the only player in town and year three surfaced a lot of fears and reservations that people had about the future direction we were heading.  An attempt to capture on the day insights in the form of an open challenge to create a better future was also attempted but these themes are so big, multi faceted and broad that consensus is almost impossible to achieve.  In fact, we could not even reach consensus on who should get the award for best contribution (the crystal ball is still sitting in my office).   Addressing the final challenge on the day of producing ideas on what would make a better future proved difficult as the more views on the future that emerged the more questions that accompanied it.

The ‘Innovation’ theme of year 5 reflected the emergence of ‘meta themes’ and could be viewed as an additional component of the convergence between technology and future.  This allowed the flexibility to explore experiences, expertise and scratching of the mental ‘itch’ – something that was always nagging you at the back of your mind that you wished to explore more deeply.  The compliance aspect of the submission (ie cannot get a ticket without it) was replaced by sometime cathartic release of energy and focus on a blank canvas topic.  CongRegation creates a peer based, trusted environment to explore areas and it was heartening to hear challenges to conventional wisdom and counter intuitive approaches.  As the attendee profile also broadened so did the entry point and background perspectives. The range of angles, perspectives, commentary, guidance and strong opinions reinforced my own internal view that everyone has a piece of the jigsaw puzzle and no one has all the pieces.

Last years theme of ‘Ideas’ proved difficult for people as not alone do we rarely think about ideas in an external inquiring stance but we generally live in the moment of having an idea and the problems it poses. Ideas is related to the Innovation theme but interestingly many felt that Innovation had become abused as a concept due to over use – words matter.  Similar to innovation, executing on an idea was a key exploration thread.  In normal life this theme gets superficial treatment and is often interwoven into bigger fabrics.  David Gluckman’s presentation in Ashford Castle and his comments about Ideas alerted me to this rich vein – if we just viewed it differently and pondered it more deeply.  Rather than a collection of idea pitches the submissions contained a mix of well thought out reflections and probings.

Informally the theme has come out of conversations after each CongRegation and this year was no different involving late night (strike while the iron is hot) chats in Danaghers after the huddles and ukulele session finished.  Four key suggestions emerged:

Fear: this popped up in a lot of huddles, would connect in a very deep way but also risked becoming very personality focused.

Imperfection: This was viewed both as perfection and imperfection and could produce fascinating divergent views

Transition: This originated from a conversation where it was felt a lot of people at CongRegation has experienced change or were undergoing deep self reflection (career, life).

Community:  In its seventh year is CongRegation becoming a community that takes place in a rural community.

The date and theme were put out as a Twitter poll (not the most scientific way but I wanted to make it a bit more objective) and Community was the clear winner.

Over the last year I have had many conversations with Tracy Keogh about community from a business perspective from how do you define it, to the different perspectives to the joys and problems of working with communities.  I have lived in rural and city communities, in communities in different culture China, Spain, Canada.  I worked with different work communities and communities of practice.  I have watched online communities grow from the early email lists and the fascinating worlds that evolved and have become the tail wagging the dog.  I live in a rural community but see multiple levels, complications, fantastic endeavors, open mindedness, closed mindness to completely unconnected groups.   Everywhere I look I see tribes, formal/informal groups of people and witness the same people behaving in completely different way.  Community surrounds us, united us, it drives and moulds us and we rarely question it deeply.  My curiosity is only now starting and I like all the contributors have permission to think, reflect, express and share our insights.

Only starting also is the awareness of how much I have to learn about this arena.  Since agreeing the theme I have had fascinating conversations with sociologists about community and place, the evolution of communities through migration and the view/power of filtered, collated research to explain what I see daily but do not necessarily understand.   As per Joan Mulvihills comments I have become hyper alert to community related topics to the point of having email conversations with a poet who featured on RTE Sunday Miscellany, straight after the show as he had a unique perspective on a community where I lived.  Coffee time discussions have uncovered doctorates who have tried to implement industrial standard on to a rural community to try improve the community.  Psychologist friends fascinate me on the way the thread multiple theories and thinking into explain how and why we operate in groups and communities.

Personally I am really excited about this theme, I am looking forward to being challenged, reflecting, researching , wondering, writing, scrapping, sharing, testing and I hope, like all the contributors, that this process along will enrich me a little bit more.

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’.