Accidentally or on purpose? Purpose is a Stream not a Compass, and you’ve the Agency to Direct it. #33 #cong22


“when live gives you lemons, hand the lemons back to life and tell life you want something better to work with”

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Your purpose is not defined you have agency to chose it

  2. Its ok for things to be messy

  3. Think stream rather than compass or rock

  4. Purpose will shift and evolve, ebb and flow

  5. If you’re not following your purpose you’re following someone elses

  6. Remember the lemons

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is into fourth role since he first came to CongRegation. A husband of one and father of three he  helps people imagine, figure out, and then create the future. At work he’s an Advisor, Innovator, Investor, Teacher, Mentor. In life a Catalyst, Synthesist and ever Curious. 

Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can connect  with Dermot on Mastodon, Twitter and  LinkedIn or contact him on by email

By Dermot Casey

Purpose. The word hangs there like the sword of Damocles shouting “WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE?”. While the softer voice whispers “if you don’t have a clear one are you even playing the game of life?” At 18 we put students through a mill where they need start defining the purpose of their lives. That has been brought sharply back in to focus recently as our eldest just finished school and our second in sixth year. To try and ease the pressure I point out that its OK to be uncertain and to reassure them that things will work out. The difference now with the younger version of me is that I’m comfortable with that.

Purpose is often seen as an external scaffolding, an exoskeleton for life. The magic formula is to find your purpose and meaning, do what you were meant to do, and bingo, be happy. The US talks about the pursuit of happiness almost as if it’s something that must be hunted down and captured and clung on to tightly. Life (and psychology) teaches us otherwise. Happiness– as opposed to pleasure – is not to be pursued but is a by-product of living life. It comes from getting absorbed in the work that that you do. Even this connection between purpose and work is a curious one.

One tale about work and purpose is the three bricklayers. A traveller came upon three people working. He asks the first person what they were doing and the person said they were laying bricks. He asked the second person the same question and she said she was putting up a wall. When he got to the third person and asked them what they were doing he said he was building a cathedral. Theres a similar story is about John F Kennedy touring NASA and asking a cleaner what he did “I’m sending a man to the moon Mr President”.

These tales are used to push that transcendent concept of purpose, that defining mission that North Star. Colour me a little sceptical. I like the first-person laying their bricks. They’re a great bricklayer. I imagine they take immense pride in their work and in their tools. They’re good at it. Have you ever watched a skilled bricklayer at work? It’s quite something.  Their work gives them the factors that people find fulfilling, a sense of autonomy, mastery and relationships. An internal motor, a chosen purpose, rather than an externally driven one.  And that OK.  I suspect some element of the attraction of purpose is that it creates an illusion of order and control in our lives, an illusion that was once created by religion.

You have no defined purpose. Really. There’s no fixed purpose of your life until you pick one. There are gurus the mystics, the self-help and wellness people, selling you on Purpose, (possibly along with some apps for a mere €7.99, some books or other faux-spiration nonsense). What you do have is agency.  The power to choose in each circumstance, the bit in your life between sense and response. In Gregory David Roberts’ “Shantaram” in the opening scene he describes being tortured by prison guards and realising that he has the power to decide how to respond in that moment, to decide how he feels about the people who are torturing him. And it redefines his life.

The purpose of your life is what you chose it to be. Taste, habit and circumstance may circumscribe it. In many ways the world conspires to take away your agency. Culture and society force you down certain paths and certain choices sometimes quite brutally sometimes even using the law as a weapon of brutality. How many women’s careers were cut short before the marriage ban was removed by the EU. And purpose doesn’t have to be static or singular.  Viktor Frankls notion is that “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Life can also be made bearable by people as well as purpose and purpose can be many things large and small. You get to choose.

The regrets people have at the end of their life “working too hard”, “not having the courage to express their feelings”, “not living life true to myself not to follow others expectations” are regrets of denial of their own agency, whether it be through circumstance, custom, family, society or fear.

We need to allow for and celebrate the messiness of life.  The advice to “follow your dreams” can be the worst sort of advice. It can also be the best. It depends. Sometimes purpose comes at the start of something, sometimes it can come after. Sometimes the small p leads to a bigger p. Sometimes purpose is good. Sometimes it can be bad. Sometimes it’s in reaction to things that have happened. Covid ripped open the fabric of our lives and we weave it back differently with the threads we have. Be careful as the old Despair poster goes that it not the case that “the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others”. Purpose shifts and evolves. You don’t have to start with why. You can start with what, when, where, why or “oh that’s interesting”.

My own superpowers include curiosity and persistence. I went to college to study Physics and fell in love with Computer Science. I joined the ESB out of college thinking it’d be fun to work on power systems. I spent the first six months putting entries into a data dictionary in a job that was in many ways more awful (if also considerably less smelly) than my job as hospital porter.  I did an MBA partly because of a bad snowfall where we were the only couple to turn up at a 30th birthday party. And I ended up top of that class because of my own internal motor. I started lecturing after the MBA as I thought “I can do a better job than the guy who taught us Information Systems”. I did. I had to get over my own naivety and had to develop a whole new set of skills to do so but that’s a different story.

Curiosity led to Twitter, and redundancy and Twitter led to Storyful. There’s a lesson in there too. If you’re not following your own purpose, you’re following someone else’s. That led to NDRC and finally where I am now, which links way back to questions I posed when I did my MBA. As Liam Neeson might say “what I have are a very particular set of skills that I have acquired over a long career”. They haven’t been assembled with a single grand purpose. Each in its turn has been developed purposefully.

We’re told “One who has a ‘why’ to live for can endure almost any ‘how’” which is fine for when we’re in extremis. But optimising for the habits of life that will allow you survive a concentration camp is probably not the best approach to living. Agency says to hell with enduring the why and lets make things better. Or as my second child says “when live gives you lemons, hand the lemons back to life and tell life you want something better to work with”

I have a set of statements that I borrowed from @RowanManahan and have used a few times over the years. The original is here My own version of it now reads.

  • Follow your curiosity
  • Build and master your tools
  • Share your toys
  • Find playmates (and some who are) smarter than you are
  • Leave every place better than you found it
  • Make magic
Dermot Casey #cong21 submission Leading in the Liminal Age

Leading in the Liminal Age #16 #cong21


We’re heading into a time of great change. Thinks look dark because they are. Covid opens up some liminal space and possible futures will always be contested. The greater challenge is ahead. Remember that we all have the power to act. With power comes the responsibility to act well, to lead in the changes that are coming.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. We’ve entered a liminal age.
  2. Nil Desperandum (never despair)
  3. We all have power and agency
  4. Leadership is acting constructively with the power we have.

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is embarking on his fourth role since he first came to CongRegation. A husband of one and father of three he  helps ambitious people imagine, figure out, and then create the future. At work he’s an Advisor, Innovator, Investor, Teacher, Mentor. In life a Catalyst, Synthesist and ever Curious.

Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can follow Dermot on Twitter or contact on LinkedIn or by email.

Dermot Casey #cong21 submission Leading in the Liminal Age

By Dermot Casey

I used to joke with MBA students that disruption was nothing new. Was the change they  experienced more disruptive than that experienced my parents who lived through the arrival of electricity, radio, tv, man walking on the moon, the Internet and facetiming grandkids on the other side of the world. Now we’re in an new space, catalysed by Covid and with the overwhelming transformation that climate change will bring. We’re entering the Liminal Age.

The word Liminal comes from anthropology. Wikipedia defines it as “the ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.” Critically “The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

We are entering the liminal age as existing institutions and structures fray and new and changed and reshaped ones have yet solidify. Even before Covid we’ve sensed this. I think it seeped into popular culture (all those Zombie movies and TV series ?). It has seeped into our politics, the craving for stability in a world of flux. This instability, created initially by neoliberalism,  creates space for authoritarian leaders who promise a stability they can’t deliver.

We’re in multiple states of change at once right now which heightens the challenges. There is Covid liminality. Illustrating the challenges ahead Covid has created the home v’s office workspace liminality. Where we work is now a contested space. Real estate companies talk about how workers are clamouring to be back in the office and Remote work companies talk about the end of the office. We have companies that are terrified of forcing workers back into the office in case they leave. And we have workers going ‘theres more to life than this’ and leaving anyway.

Any liminal space is going to be contested.  What is new is not yet fully formed and will be contested.  Those who benefit from the how things are, are terrified of change. The Spanish Flu didn’t make much of a difference to working habits with a quick reversion to the status quo. Post WW2 in the US there was an almost frantic haste to get women out of the workplace and back into the home (middleclass women at least). The history of the Irish state for more than 70 years was mostly a resistance to change.  Emigration was effectively state policy. It drove out the innovators, the creators, the artists and the entrepreneurs, those who could create different and better futures than the sterile misogynistic homophobic Ireland of McQuaid and DeValera.

We’re having a partial fight for the future right now, partial as we’re still in the pandemic. Dublin’s city center feels hollowed out as the much of the past is built over with grade A generic glass and concrete boxes. Covid caused some problems and exposed others, reflecting what feels like a narrow vision of what a great city could and should be. “We need the workers back” is a poor version of building a great city, that pulls people in, a city where people want to live and work and play.  We are social creatures and that’s not going to change. We’re also ‘homo ludens’ the playful ape and have a visceral need to play and explore different ways of doing things. Any city that wants to thrive in the future needs to build on its uniqueness and be a magnet for great work, play and life. It needs to create space for exploration and experimentation.  It needs to show imagination and leadership.

So what is leadership in a liminal age ? Machaevillis echoes the challenges ahead “There is nothing more difficult ….than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the innovator has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order” The history of Ireland demonstrates this powerfully. Concentrations of power post-independence hollowed out the state, stunting development and growth, leading to generations of emigration. More recently it offers some possible reasons for hope. FDI and technology has created some wealth not anchored to existing power structures. Citizens assemblies, and movements like those for equal marriage and Repeal show that there are different ways to construct the future.

The future belongs to those who can envisage, communicate it and will it into being. For better and for worse. At its worst it’s the former US president banned from Twitter who lived rent free in too many of our heads for years. At its best it’s an emancipatory process where we co-create a better future. It built by years of hard work. Its crystallised and brought to focus by individuals as different as  Greta Thurnburg and Marcus Rashford and Malala Yousafzai and Colin Rand Kaepernick. Its John Hume and his decades of work and single transferrable speech. It the crazy dance video guy (Google it if you’ve forgotten). Its Eoin Kennedy and Congregation. Its Tracy Keogh and Grow Remote. Its starts with asking “why not?” It’s a recognition that we are not helpless and that we have power and a voice if we choose to exercise it.

As a postcolonial country – and the only European country colonised by another European country – sometimes I wonder if we have a certain learned helplessness in Ireland. (And that we fail to realise we’re so colonised we don’t realise how colonised we have been). A word I keep coming back to is will: to want and to choose. And the phrase that builds on it, that defines for me Leadership in a Liminal Age is Antonio Gramsci’s “The pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will.” The facts of the world may be dark and yet we have to take action in the world. The only sin is to give in to despair.

True Leadership is an act of will and an act of courage. It is taking a knee. It is Fridays for the Future. It is building a school or a credit union.  It is starting a company or a conference or writing a novel, crafting a bowl or painting. It is an emancipatory act of the human spirit, and no matter how small, it is quietly ambitious for the creation of a better future. The arc of history bends nowhere without people deciding to bend it. I’ve seen some awful examples of leadership. Acts of power exercised badly, by bullies.  Or bureaucratic managers so far out of their depth that they are lost. Negative to the extent we need an ‘unleadership’ word for them. And I’ve seen some great examples of leadership. We are in a time now where we all need to act and to lead.

Our most liminal space is climate. It will dominate the planet for the lifetimes of anyone alive who reads this.  Nothing else matters really. With climate, the options for the future aren’t manifold, and won’t co-exist. The climate will either get worse for a while and then better. Even if we do everything in our power to fix it, it will continue to get worse for a very long time. And we need to be honest with people around this. And the fixes to this are structural and systematic and through the political system.

We can either let the world drown and burn or we look to quench the flames and to build something better.  And it will be a ferociously contended space. Many people are getting  rich while letting the world burn and some are actively setting fire to it. And others are terrified of the loss and change to come. We must dare greatly, choose wisely and in this liminal space we’ll all need to lead. As a great leader once said  “The alternative is to set a lesser goal and then still misfire.”

Where do we Call Home in Society 3.0 #33 #cong20


To create a Society 3.0 we need to have a sense of what we want to create, building  on and retaining what’s good and reimagining what can be.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Society 2.0 (now) is better than our original emigration driven society 1.0

  2. We’ve unique resources as a society. In our history, culture and language and when we are open to the world

  3. Lets lose the Rural/Urban division. Please.

  4. Society 3.0 can be an anchor and point of departure for all of us. 

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is a husband of one and father of three. He helps ambitious people imagine, figure out, and then create the future. At work he’s an Advisor, Innovator, Investor, Teacher and Technologist. In life a Catalyst,  Synthesist and  ever Curious. He finishes his current adventure with NDRC in December before embarking on the next one. 

Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can follow Dermot on Twitter or contact on LinkedIn or by email. He promises to blog more at .

By Dermot Casey

Where do you belong? Less an existential question and more  a practical one. Where do you want to live that you feel that you fit in. That enables you to live the life that you want to live. To live and work and be part of a community. To have kids if that is what you want to do.  Pre-covid a friend of mine spoke about the ‘grey people’. Stuck in cars in long commute with work  often turning into a grind. The hollowing out people’s lives leaving little time and less energy for anything other than work, commute, eat, sleep, repeat.

I grew up in rural Ireland and was part of the vast annual pouring out of young people from the country to the city, an outpouring which often flowed into tidal waves of emigration. Waves that have changed the structure of both rural and urban populations across the decades.  For me it I was happy to leave with  a whole world out there to explore.  Growing up life had been full. My mum imbued me with a lifetime love of books and learning. A brilliant teacher opened the doors on Science. A generous man named Peter McCarthy took us for water safety lessons every Saturday and guided me all the way up to lifeguard. And I had some very smart friends. One now building visions systems for cars, another researching cures for Alzheimer’s and a third running deep space probes for Nasa.

Everything that came after required us to leave. And in many ways I was desperate to leave. By 15 I knew few things in life. But I knew that I was leaving.  The movie ‘Black 47’  captures then in one scene when commenting on the landscape an English Lord comments “that’s the problem with you  Irish, you have no appreciation for the scenery”. “Ah sure” replies Stephen Rea character, “we might have a better appreciation for the scenery if you could eat it”. The reality of rural Irish life was a “sheer grimness” for many “without money or property” (or connections), as Fintan O’Toole so cogently put it.

This grimness contrasts with the romantic view of rural Ireland which has existed for much of the history of the state. A view amongst generations of politicians of rural Ireland being spiritually superior and somehow more authentically Irish.  Somehow the real Ireland. A suspicion of Dublin and especially “Dublin 4” and people with notions.  The Pale and outside the Pale.  Though I didn’t realise it at the time I was growing up in a state shaped as an incredibly conservative institution post the war of independence. Modelled and shaped by De Velera in a way French Philosopher Jean Jacque Rosseau would have approved “Sparta, small, harsh, self-sufficient, fiercely patriotic and defiantly un-cosmopolitian” where a womans place was “in the home, making virtuous citizens out of women’.

Unconsciously at the time, and later consciously I was pushing against some of these forces.

State policy has for the majority of Irish history since independence acted to compound the extreme poverty, both mental and material of the material of the majority of citizens. Historian JJ Lees in 1989 wrote of “ the sanctity of property, the unflinching materialism of materialism of farmer calculations, the defence of professional status” which for decades have been the key values of the Irish state, values baptised by the Church. And Tom Garvin developed this into his book “Preventing the Future: Why was Ireland so Poor for so long”

And despite our view of ourselves as a modern society, where Silicon Docks lies gleaming in our modernity, we can see the problems this set path continues to cause. The success of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) as a pillar – indeed the key pillar of Irish industrial policy – was able to develop because “the weakness of the industrial base ensured that there was no substantial economic pressure group threatened” by FDI as James Wickham noted in 1997.

In Ireland it’s been said that ‘we eat our young’.  Back in 2010 at the start of the crash an economist said to me “we’ve a choice between the old and the young and we’ve chosen the old”.  Economic development in Ireland from the foundation of the state favoured those who had over those who hadn’t and for many getting out was the only option. Two of my Uncles moved to UK and a third spent some time there before coming home.  The rise of the Celtic tiger papered over the cracks but as a country we confused temporary income increases for generational stores of wealth and the financial crash exposed some of the fundamental problems in Irish development.

At the same time we are facing significant new problems. We have a climate crisis, and despite attempts to greenwash it, methane belching Irish cows contribute a significant proportion of our greenhouse gas emissions. And we are seeing the start of a societal shift to vegetarianism and veganism.  Like it or not change is coming to agriculture. Our model of FDI has in the estimation of the IDA a small bit left to go before it peaks. Even before it declines the tax base from FDI is under threat.  We can attempt to keep some of the existing models going as long as possible or we can look to create new models while supporting the transition from old ones.

We have vaguely tried to fix the problems of rural Ireland many times over the years. Rural electrification brought benefits to many. My father was old enough to remember electricity arriving. And radio and TV. Electricity didn’t fix the problems of rural Ireland and on its own broadband won’t fix those problems either. Aside from some major projects too much of what happened over the years has been a “one for everyone in the audience”.  Charlie McCreevys election grabbing decentralisation stunt in 2000 served only to damage expertise in elements of the civil service. And there is still a significant draw to the city. Despite the objectives of the governments Ireland 2040 plan, independent economic assessments suggest that Dublin is likely to continue to grow faster than rest of the country over the next 20 years.

Globally we are in a new era. Our attitude to the future needs to change from predicting and adapting to looking forward to and envisaging the future.  To create a Society 3.0 we need to have a sense of what we want to create.  The best way to predict the future is to create it. Our primary resources will be our imaginations and the ability to generate new knowledge which is already taking  precedence over control of traditional resources.  Our society and our economy and our structures will need to move from machines and hierarchies to natural ecosystems, lifeworlds and communities that dynamically reflect the complexity of the real world.

Innovation in nature, the process and the progress of evolution functions by combining existing forms in new ways, preserving the best elements of the past and generating genuinely new forms. Innovation in our society needs to work in the same way. And this is where we have a genuine opportunity, a unique opportunity.

For Ireland it’s not a case of rural or urban. City or country. It’s both and or neither.  Ireland needs Dublin as an international center that competes and functions on a global stage.  And Ireland needs vibrant thriving local communities and we all needs a healthy dynamic of interaction between the two.  Our unique history culture and language combined with a welcoming openness to the world are fundamental to the well-being of society 3.0

Local communities can do a huge amount for themselves. Everything from the GAA, The Credit Union movement, and tidy towns testifies to the communities of Ireland which have survived despite rather than because of national policies.  But as Fintan O’Toole pointed out “rural communities can’t build a rural transport network, keep post offices functioning or ensure the survival of rural schools.” The rollout of highspeed broadband across the country over the next few years will be a good thing. And has the potential to transform the country in the way electricity did.   But it won’t fix things on its own. Industrial policy has to support it.

At an policy level we should be looking at ways to build vibrant local communities and build Irish enterprise into as important a pillar of economic development as FDI. And to actively encourage remote working as a part of this. As a mechanism to support the economic development of rural Ireland, as a part of industrial policy and as a good thing.  Covid has highlighted how our grey lives can be less grey.

A few years ago at Cong Tracy Keogh talked about Grow Remote as she started to weave people and communities and policy together (whether that was all the original intention or not). And the world has started to catch on. Leading tech company Stripe announced that their fifth engineering hub globally would be ‘Remote’. You can work for one of the top companies in the world, from anywhere in the world. If that’s Dublin, great. Or Doolin or Donegal that works just as well. If that is where you belong then you’ve the opportunity to work there in a way that wasn’t possible in the past.  And this creates the opportunity for innovation in ways that didn’t exist previously.

When I was younger I thought all the answers to the problems I saw and all the opportunity was out there somewhere else.  I left home and eventually found my tribe and build a new home. And it turned out all the answers and all the opportunity wasn’t out there. Our society has reshaped itself in many positive way and its done that in rural Tipperary as much as Dun Laoghaire.  Our society is radically, different mostly for the better, than the society I was born into. And while I push against the problems I see in Ireland I love this place. I have no desire to live elsewhere. I believe we can and must make it a better place for our families for our kids and for the future.

A fried once wrote “the idea of returning home is a powerful theme in art and culture. It expresses a sense of security and belonging that we all desire in times of turmoil or change. Home can be many things: a home country, city county, town or street, a landscape a smell or a specific place and the friend and family that live there. Whatever or where ever you find home its an anchor point in the world, a place of departure”

Our society 3.0 should be that anchor point, and that point of departure. To give us roots and wings. To enable people to grow and thrive where they belong, to grow and thrive with their communities, it enables people to come home. Society 3.0 is not an urban versus rural its both/and or its nothing at all.

Community is an Act #26 #cong19


Community isn’t a thing. Its an act.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an act, a verb not a noun, and only exists through participation
  2. We shape and are shaped by our communities and by language online and in the real world
  3. Physical communities can protect us from online harm, possibly
  4. Enable people to participate and interact and you enable them to create and change the world

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is a husband of one and father of three. He’s trying to live in his body as much as his head these days to find some more space. When not avoiding writing blogposts for Congregation he takes a critical look at startup ideas on a daily basis while looking to invest in early stage companies at NDRC.

Contacting Dermot Casey:

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

By Dermot Casey

One email begins “We’d like to thank you and other members of our community” while another notes “as valued member of the community.” Member of the community? What are they talking about. As Inigo Montoya said “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”. It’s inconceivable that being on the end of a mailing list means I’m part of a community. If email lists that I once subscribed to, that I’ve forgotten about because Gmail hides them from me aren’t a community, what is community?

The dictionary tells me it’s a noun, a “group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common” “Montreal’s Italian community” (or Dublin’s Tipperary Community). That definition leaves me unsatisfied.

Over the past few months I’ve been helping to build a fire pit for our local scout troop. The scout troop is a big part of our kids life. They’ve have learned so much, and benefitted from the generous time given by so many people over years. The project to build the firepit started late last year. A permanent spot where we can have 30 or 40 people sit together, cook and chat and share with each other. As the project kicked off and as the first few reminders came in on WhatsApp I was too busy to help out. Gym, daddy taxi service and work were useful excuses at the start.

Eventually I made time. A few hours on Saturdays shifting cubic meters of sand or cement. One day over Christmas moving a 1000 cement blocks. Slowly from a plan, to a hole in the ground, shovel after shovel, and block after block, it has taken shape. A group of parents giving time when they can. Sharing a cup of tea and sandwiches at the break. Tired and sore the next day. The good kind of sore, the kind that is earned. And that’s the heart of what community is. It is a verb not a noun. It’s not a thing. It’s not something we belong to. That’s always felt a little odd to me. Community is an act, made not given. And it is an act performed by the people in the community.

One of the most powerful metaphors I’ve come across for the human mind is that of a whirlpool. When we are alive the whirlpool of consciousness moves with force and intention. When we die the whirlpool is still. The elements of water remain but the mind is silent, gone. So it is with a community. It is a living thing. It is created in the actions of the members of the community. The school community exists in the actions of the parents and the children and the teachers. When people talk about a community dying, they are talking about the ebbing of participation. The wasting of muscles which must be exercised to be of use. Community exists in the repeated actions of the members of the community. And we ourselves are enriched and recreated through participation in the acts of community.

This participation shapes us as much as we shape the community. UCD Researcher Abeba Birbhane talks about Ubuntu idea that people are born without selfhood and acquire it through interactions with others, the Zulu proverb that ‘A person is a person through other people’ [1]. Aristotle said you are what you do repeatedly. The Ubuntu might say you are who you interact with repeatedly. It echoes what businessman Jim Rohn once said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Or as my mother says. ‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you who you are’.

I’ve often wondered if online communities are communities. Is the act of online conversation able to build a community? In my first job I persuaded the Head of Innovation to connect the ESB to the Internet on the basis of getting access to Usenet newsgroups. ‘People really take time to answer questions from strangers on computers?’ was his initially puzzled response. They do. Is it an act of participation? It can be.

I’ve actively participated in online groups over the years which feel similar to other communities in that they’re defined by active participation. Years ago the ‘Campaign for Trustworthy evoting’ took action into the real world in an important way. And in part I’ve been shaped by people I’ve interacted with online. As have many of us. Abeba Birbhane quotes Mikhail Bakhtin that “truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth” in conversation then we are all capable of shaping, and being shaped by in online communities.

That gives me pause. Kranzbergs first law of technology is that ‘Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral’[2]. It shapes and creates the world in new and sometimes different ways. The virtual nature of online communities causes problems. We see this in how some people are radicalised online. Particularly young men. I suspect that these are people who are searching for something, searching for a community to belong to and are not anchored in communities in their day to day life. We are social creatures As human beings community helps us in an act of becoming.

And at the same time we are worried about the death of communities. We have a fraying of community these days because we have an absence of time. People are commuting longer distances to work, and they are frequently working longer hours and there is a growing precariousness to work (the gig economy). All of this leaves us without time and without the energy to create and nurture communities. And communities take time and they take energy. The act of participation takes energy. We often default to online communities because they take less time and a lot less energy.

It is essential that we are embedded in real communities at local, national, and international levels. We are physical beings and physical presence is important. Participation bonds people together and can also anchor people. Irish communities to an extent protected against disinformation during the Repeal referendum. These mechanisms and these communities were built up over years of hard work. It would be good if we could use physical communities as a sort of inoculation against the vague online disinformation disease spread on and by Facebook and other social networks. Building networks of trust and truth. These human mechanisms are what makes the climate strike a potential for real change. Participation by millions locally, nationally and internationally. People changing by interacting and participating with each other, changing each other and changing the world.

We need to make space and enable people to become part of their own community. Whatever that community is. I look at admiration, and a little bit of awe, at Tracy Keogh and Grow Remote which is about building community and building communities of communities, online and in the real world. It is about participation and is helping people to create and recreate themselves and their communities. Like all great communities it is an act. A class act. Like Congregation itself.



Killing John Wayne #75 #cong18


Simple truths were never simple and only ever partially true.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Some ideas are like air. They are everywhere and yet we don’t notice them
  2. Culturally men have been handed some specific ideas of manhood which distorts and limits our ability to act in the world
  3. It is important to change these ideas
  4. To do so requires us to connect to and express our emotions to change the limits of our language and our world

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is a husband of one and father of three. He’s trying to live in his body as much as his head these days to find some more space. When not writing blogposts for Congregation he takes a critical look at startup ideas on a daily basis while looking to invest in early stage companies at NDRC.

Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can find Dermot on TwitterLinkedIn and via email 

By Dermot Casey

In the end it is John or me.

I grew up with him. Saturday afternoon westerns and Sunday Matinees on the telly. Westerns and war films were like bacon and cabbage, a staple of a simple diet.  A Sunday afternoon curled up on the sofa, the warmth of the house soaking into the bones while rain lashed the windows. The delight of the simple heroes on the telly. Striding across the landscape sorting out right from wrong. Strong stoical men. Their guns and their fists spoke for them. Any pain or discomfort they as my granny said ‘put it down inside of yourself…’

It’s funny what you internalise. As I got a little bit older my heroes got a little more complex. ‘Charlies War’ shaped my view of war more than any history class. And still John strode through the back of my imagination. Before Superheroes he was Batman or Daredevil, suffering and in pain but never weak. Always pushing through. No tears

That’s the model. The strong and silent type. The quiet man. An idea. Internalised and reinforced softly. So quietly and so gently the layers of sediment are laid down that you don’t even realise it. Air breathed in and out. Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t express or feel their emotions. Anger maybe. Rage. Big emotions. Occasionally. But generally. Daily. Not

The morning after my eldest son was born I went back into the hospital. When I held him, swaddled in a blue blanket, I cried. They were tears of joy and of relief. That he was well. That my wife was well. My tears mixed with that smell of a new baby. A big upwelling of emotion. I laughed. At my tears, at the joy of the moment. All-encompassing overwhelming emotion communicating the moment as a feeling of the body. Told all at once rather than piece by piece. A felt sense. A sense of what my parents felt for me. I looked at my son and the world changed. And turned and changed each time my children were born.

And yet and yet. Despite the books I’d read, despite the rejection of many manly things I was caught in web of ideas. This solid layer of our culture. Embedded in it. Imbued with it.  Don’t really think too much about how you feel. It’s a subtle and sometimes none too subtle rejection of feeling and of expressing emotion other than big ones. And in reality I lacked the language to express them. The word “fine” stands as a placeholder for a myriad of daily thoughts and feelings, mine and many others.  And now I wonder if you don’t fully feel and express emotions, if you don’t or can’t turn them into language how do you ever learn to manage them. How do you fully make sense of the world. And if you can’t make sense of it how can you fully act in it.

We’ve moved on from John Wayne. All the way to the Avengers. While Spiderman might be a more relatable than Superman (teenage angst yea!), superheroes  still offer simple answers to the simple questions.  And the grounds of society are itself shifting in many profound ways. Slowly and in the right way. And yet. And yet.  And yet there is a crisis of manhood. And an epidemic of male suicide and alcoholism. And layers of mental health problems that we are just starting as a society to deal with.  And I look at three boys and wonder how to prepare them for the world.

As society shifts we are recognising and grasping for broader and better ways of making sense of things. I think (I feel) much of this crisis is one of language and identity and emotion. I don’t think it is anything new. Simple truths were never simple and only ever partially true. Religions have looked at this problem in the past and looked for ways to fix it. Before priestly piety rolled over notion of goodness and love. And we need to work towards ideas and ways of being that account for it. Because the new pious priest of simple answers, the Jordan Petersons of this world, move to fill these gaps with the bromides of simple untruths.

So how do I kill the idea of John Wayne?  The layers of sediment have been laid down over many years. I need to peel back the layers slowly and sometimes painfully and build back in other ideas and experiences to fill it in.  With ideas that don’t reduce experience but enable us to recognise and feel and make sense of the richness of experience. If the limits of our language are the limits of our world we need to push out those limits. We need to touch and express the states and feelings of our body. In the little things. Daily. And if we do, if I do it will leave me better able to act in the world.  Because that is what it is all about. How we act in the world and how we act towards making a better and kinder world.

We are all artists. We daily painting the reality of our world in language. And we need an iridescent kaleidoscope of language to express the richness of our emotional palettes. If we don’t touch the feelings that course through us and crystallise the emotions we are left senseless and numbed. And we act poorer. A teacher told me a story about one of our boys a while back.  When asked to play a game by one of his pals he responded “I’m a very tired today and I’m a little cranky and I don’t want to play that game because I might get angry”

In the end killing John Wayne isn’t about John or me. It’s John or my kids.

The Trouble with Ideas. Some thoughts on the nature(s) of ideas. #27 #cong18


I’ve some notion that our idea of what ideas are is limited. We (and I’ve been more guilty than most) think of them as things when we should think of them more as a process. Ideas are good (can be great, sometimes awful) but can crowd out other forms of knowing and ways of being creative.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We think of ideas as abstract things.  Think of them as verbs and processes as well.
  2. Ideas are only one way of knowing about the world and when we focus particularly on having ideas we lose the other ways of knowing and being creative.
  3. If we’re full of ideas we’ve no space to be receptive to other forms of knowing and creating new meaning. (Close the 500 browser tabs)
  4. To learn and to see anew sometimes means becoming lost first and to dwell on the wellspring of our experience.

About Dermot Casey:

Dermot is a husband of one and father of three. He’s trying to live in his body as much as his head these days to find some more space. When not writing blogposts for Congregation he takes a critical look at startup ideas on a daily basis while looking to invest in early stage companies at NDRC.


Contacting Dermot Casey:

You can find Dermot on TwitterLinkedIn and via email 

By Dermot Casey.

I started writing about “Notions” that particularly Irish reaction to ideas which aims to make sure that people are not getting above themselves –

“pilates, ‘twas far from pilates that we were raised”

“ah sur yer man has notions”

I wrote a few paragraphs of an outline, but it aside and now can’t find the outline. I haven’t a notion of where those notes went.

I was stuck. I had no idea what to write about. Brief panic as I was sure that there was an idea on ideas there somewhere. Something out there at the edge of awareness, that I hadn’t quite grasped and the harder I tried to grasp the harder that it became.  It wasn’t helped by seeing the posts going up on the Congregation website. There are lots of good interesting thought provoking ideas there.

I thought about it a little (and a lot). Looked at the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary definition of Idea “Gk = look, semblance, form, kind” “An archetype, a pattern, a standard”Mental image or conception” etc. (And the definition of Notion “a concept, an idea”). Not much inspiration.

Then in early October Paul Romer jointly won the Nobel Prize in Economics* for work on “the Idea of Ideas”.There is a great summary of it by Chad Jones [1] The tl;drversion was summed up by Thomas Jefferson a few hundred years ago as “He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine receives light without darkening me.

Ideas. Great things, ideas. Though when you think about it ideas are a very different to things. They’re really not even things. Though we like to think about them as things.  I can have a cup of tea but can I have an idea?  If I have the cup of tea you can’t have the same cup of tea, but as Romer and Jefferson pointed out we can both have the same idea.  Playing around with the Irish word for idea brought me to the saying “bhuail smaoineamh mé” “An idea struck me” or almost literally “a thought had me”. Which is an interesting way of thinking about ideas. An almost physical process of having an idea. And maybe we can both have the idea but it’s different for each of us.

This is one of the challenges with ideas. We  think of them as things that are and can be separate from people. I am someone who spends a lot of time inside his head, inside of books looking at and thinking about ideas. As a kid my favourite place in the world was inside a library. Even now my favourite building in the world is a library (the Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire).  Libraries and books (and the internet) are a great way of expanding the mind and the horizon of the world. What could be wrong with that (aside from the 500 browser tabs I appear to have open at any point in time)?

One part of the problem is being separated physically from the world and this abstraction into pure forms. Ideas like knowledge come from interaction with the world and that is physical as well as mental and in comes in different forms mentally, emotionally and socially. Ideas can act as filter of how we see the world. Even how we see ourselves. Even the idea of an idea acts as its own filter. Go back to that definition of ideas “an archetype, a pattern”. Ideas can frame our world and frame our thinking and that’s a problem when we separate them from the context of the world. (Especially when we raise up the deftness of thought that comes from sometimes smart ideas that are decontextualized). And I think there is something critical about who we are as humans in this.

I’ll come back to Congregation 18 weighting a little less than I did last year. One of the ideas at Cong last year was Gerry Duffy asked to do one thing each of the three days over the weekend and using a little red dot as a trigger for that. My thought was to do a walk each day. I put the red dot on the back of my phone, where a year later it’s still visible, poking out from the phone cover near the camera.  The idea of walking every day translated into stopping using the lift in work and walking the three floors to my desk any number of times every day (the bathrooms in my building are on the ground floor). A year on I’m still doing. A few months later the idea translated into a regular exercise routine.

As I was thinking about the ‘trouble with ideas” I googled the phrase and got 94 results. The first result on led me to a wonderful video with Robert Rowland Smith. He similarly points out that there are other ways of knowing about the world that are equally important to ideas, that ideas keep us in our heads with abstractions that are not real that there are other sources of innovation and inspiration of art and culture beyond the ideas in our head.

Because we tie ourselves into an ideas as objects (‘the idea went over my head’, ‘I didn’t grasp the idea’ etc) we too often lose other dimensions of thought and other ways of knowing and being.  To oversimplify it we need to stop thinking of ideas as nouns and start thinking of them as verbs, as a process. Language and the ideas expressed through language don’t convey meaning, they afford meaning, in the sense that meaning as a process enacts rather than represents. Ideas and communication are about evoking meaning not transferring it, a process not a thing. That flame that is burns as a lighted taper is transferred from one person to another is different because each person, each taper is different.

We all bring our meaning. Its why a theme based on the word Ideas can evoke such rich and varied and wonderful responses from people.

Rowland Smith also brought another problem home to me. In looking at different forms of thought he describes how we need to create space for what he calls ‘the solus’ the creative energy within all of us. He also talks about the need to get away from the idea of “having ideas” and to explore the idea of being open and getting lost in something, noting the problem that “if you keep topped up with ideas you’ll never open up to receiving new things.”  To really receive you need to empty yourself out and create space first. To let the thoughts have you. And that is the real problem of my 500 open browser tabs.

I am so full so often there isn’t enough openness to really let new things in. I skim, rather than read. Pay partial rather than full attention to this. And gradually I’ve becoming aware of this. Earlier this year I’ve deleted my Facebook account and tapered my usage of twitter, though probably not enough.  And to really open myself up often I need to get stuck and stop to create some space to enable the “bhuail smaoineamh mé”

I wrote this from a place of stuckness, being a little bit lost, rediscovered some old things and found and crystallised some new ideas along the way. It’s a pattern that I have seen before but has taken me a while to really understand, to recognise and give meaning to it. To learn and to see anew sometimes means becoming lost first.

It is part of the reason that I love Congregation. Cong is a space of renewal a place to be open and to give and to receive. The first year I came to Cong I came in that right frame of mind. Receptive and open and drank deep in the meaning that was there. In the years since I’ve learned that everyone who comes to Cong has an something interesting that I can learn from it only I can get out of my own way and properly pay attention to it and to them.

Not everything will resonate but frames will be shifted, sometimes long after the weekend has ended, and a mind once stretched by new ideas never returns to its original dimensions and the soul enriched by new experiences will be forever better for it. Or maybe I’m just having notions. You’ll tell me the meaning of this piece for you.


*  Technically there is no Nobel Prize in Economics. Its full title is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel because Alfred Nobel didn’t think Economics was important enough for a Nobel but some bankers got notions and managed to link their prize closely enough to the Nobel that everyone has the idea that Nobel offered a prize in Economics.

[1] Chad Jones piece on Paul Romer’s Nobel win

Robert Rowland Smiths piece on Ideas can be found here