Into the Wild: Adventures beyond Ideas #77 #cong18


Organisations obsess over ideas. But stories are more valuable than ideas, because stories involve action and adventure, and can teach us much more. An idea rarely survives its impact with reality intact. The interaction of the idea with the world, and the stories that come from that, are the really interesting bits.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Beyond every meaningful idea there is a really interesting story
  2. Few ideas survive their impact with the world intact; and once they get into the wild, that’s when the fun begins
  3. The true value of an idea is the action and the stories it inspires
  4. Great stories codify & transmit knowledge, and teach, inspire and forearm others

About Morgan McKeagney:

Morgan is an entrepreneur & user experience pioneer, passionate about how great design and a relentless focus on the user can create business value.  Morgan is a co-founder of Framlabs, a business design company that helps progressive organisations make tomorrow better, for their customers and themselves. Morgan is also a mentor on two of Europe’s best startup accelerators: NDRC (Dublin) & Startup Sauna (Helsinki). Previously, Morgan co-founded iQ Content, a world-class user experience company, which delivered brilliant digital experiences for millions of people in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Contacting Morgan McKeagney:

Always up for chat, you can follow Morgan on Twitter, send him an email, visit him, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

By Morgan McKeagney

Beyond every meaningful idea there is a story. The story is nearly always greater than the idea, because it involves real people doing stuff. The idea is the boring bit. The fun bit is when the idea is let loose on the world, with humans at the helm.

In the summer of 2014, through one great storyteller, John le Carre, one failed entrepreneur, yours truly, learns of the exploits of the legendary Norwegian artic explorer, Fritjof Nansen, and is inspired to start again.

Nansen took an idea – that it is possible to float to the North Pole – and brought it on an scarecely believable adventure. A remarkable boat, the Fram, is designed and built to get locked into the ice, in order to float over the Pole. The Fram enters the ice on the 10th September 1893 at 78° North. Their target is the North Pole, 90° North. The boat floats south at first, and then meanders North, but slowly. By November 1894, their progress painfully slow, Nansen calculates it will take the Fram five years to reach the Pole, if it does at all.

The limits of the idea are met and a decision is needed. Persist, kill, pivot? Nansen chooses to pivot. On March 14th 1895, the Fram is at 84°N. Nansen and one companion, Hjalmar Johansen, leave the boat with 28 dogs, to try to ski to the Pole: a distance of 660km across the world’s most treacherous and uncharted landscape. Nansen’s right-hand man Svelerup, stays with the Fram, and persists in the attempt to float North.

Initially, Nansen & Johansen make good progress. They get to 86°13.6′N by the 7th of April – 3 degrees further North than anyone has previously reached. But progress slows. The way ahead is perilous, supplies are low. They decide to cut their losses, and turn back for home.

Their journey home is an incredible tale of survival against all the odds: bears, damaged canoes, broken chronometers, wrong-turns, starvation, and near-disaster. After more than a year surviving and edgeing southwards, a seredipidous encounter with the British explorer, Frederick Jackson on Franz Joseph Land, means they’re saved, and provides a safe passage home.

On the 9th of September 1896, the Fram, reunited with Nansen and Johansen, pulls into Oslo to a tumultuous reception. The expedition had been gone, presumed lost, for more than three years. They had travelled further north than anyone else ever had. They all survived. And Nansen quickly turned the adventures into a bestseller called “Furthest North”. He became a true global celebrity: known and admired everywhere. An inspiration, ushering in a whole new era of exploration, and a new generation of explorers.

Immature organisations obsess about ideas, thinking that more ideas will lead to better outcomes. They create platforms and campaigns and invent prizes to encourage staff to dream up and submit ideas. This itself is nearly always a bad idea, and rarely yields anything tangible. The fethishing of the idea obscures the meaningful and hard bit: making the idea real in the world. We end up with an abundance of ideas, but a dearth of executed outcomes.

Nothing real happens. After the hoopla dies down, the bosses move on to the next shiny thing, and there’s nothing durable left. Just a sense of – well, that was a waste of time. Staff who participate in good faith end up less motivated than before. A stench descends: the idea initiative mutates into that terrible dreaded thing: the misunderstood, unowned, unloved corporate failure, that noone wants to talk about. We tried that before but it didn’t work.

The idea of floating to the North Pole is the easy bit. Actually executing it, as Nansen showed, is impossibly hard. The idea itself is daft. But the story of its execution is incredibly valuable. Nansen’s story continues to inspire people to attempt the interesting and seemingly impossible. His bravery in doing it & sharing it continues to accrue immeasurable value for all of us in the form of new discoveries, methods, attitudes, tools and techniques.

The idea is not the thing, the story is the thing. As soon as we start doing, we move beyond the idea, evolving it, creating a story. The more human the story, the better: it invites others to participate, to empathise, to dream and to share. The better the story we tell, the more impact we will have: codifying our insights, inspiring and forearming others, and providing the raw material for others to build on.

Get your skis on. Take your idea into the wild.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? #76 #cong18


Listening to those reoccurring ideas is important – they push you to do things outside your comfort zone and drive you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Unshakable ideas happen for a reason and are a sign you need to act on them.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Listen to your gut – it’s usually always right
  2. Follow through on your passions – if you care about what you do, it’s half the battle
  3. Stick to your guns – stay true to your original idea and to the reason you accepted the challenge in the first place
  4. Appreciate your achievements – sometimes we forget to acknowledge the great things we’ve achieved due to follow an idea through; take time to recognise all the good things you’ve done

About John Reilly:

John Reilly is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the award winning technology and gaming website, www.TheEffect.Net. He is also Senior Client Executive in MKC Communications and has an-depth understanding and passion for the consumer electronics and gaming markets..

Contacting John Reilly:

You can follow John on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn or reach him by email.

By John Reilly

Here’s an idea; why don’t we focus more? Focus on the positive things that happen in our day to day lives. Focus on what excites us and gets our heart racing and focus on the ideas that you just can’t seem to shake. Our brains are constantly firing off new ideas every second of every day but the vast majority of them are discarded and never re-emerge again. The ones that do linger, these are the ones to pay attention to. Their reoccurring nature is a telltale sign to begin with and highlight that they need to be paid attention to.

Nearly 6 years ago, I was contributor on a now defunct technology and gaming site which I started writing for when I originally moved to Dublin from Mayo. It was a great way to build up my journalistic credentials and get more and more involved in the industries I love, consumer electronics and gaming. As 2013 gave way to 2014, I started having the reoccurring idea that I should set up my own website and start to forge my own relationships with the various players in the market, both locally and even internationally. This idea kept rearing its head and the more time I gave to it, the more I realised it’s something I would need to follow through.

After a couple of weeks of deciding on format, branding, logo and name, my idea to go out and start something completely new finally happened. With the support of my brother and two close friends, I set up my very own technology and gaming website, TheEffect.Net. The idea behind this site was that it would be something I would like to read myself. The articles and features would be something I would have an interest in and my passion for the content I was covering would transfer over to those who were reading it.

With everything finally up and running, it was now time to start to forge stronger relationships with the various technology and gaming companies and their respective PR agencies, both locally and internationally. My thinking behind this was that, being such a new outlet on the scene, it would be important to let these various organisations know who I was, the idea behind the new website how, with their support, I would develop the site into something which would grow and retain a dedicated and passionate audience. This audience would have the same interest and intrigue that I have for technology and gaming would be in their blood.

Now, with the 6th anniversary of the launch of the website arriving next February, I think back to that original idea and how it affected me to take action. These reoccurring ideas happen for a reason. It’s your head, and maybe even your heart, telling you something and you need to sit up and pay attention. Working on the site and seeing it grow over the last few years has been fantastic and, having recently been awarded the ‘Best Digital & Technology Blog’ at the Blog Awards Ireland for two years running, it really goes to show that following your ideas and your passion is worth it. Hopefully my story inspires you to follow those unshakable ideas you may have also.

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.

Ideas: Growth and Execution #74 #cong18


Why it took from 2012 to 2018 to finally pursue my idea, when the urge to travel took over and the realisation that I was on a surreal path of growth helped ease the feeling of regret. Lessons have been learned and the future looks bright.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. You can always be a better person than the person you were yesterday
  2. Growth (personal, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual growth) is always an option, choose wisely.
  3. Execution is better than procrastination EVERY SINGLE TIME
  4. You can be whoever and do whatever you desire if you choose focus and execution.

About Emer Flannery:

Studying Psychology for 5 years in Ireland and the UK, working in Care services in a few random countries and getting the deadly travel bug and building a team of fellow travellers in Ireland and abroad, building Cuchie Couture (soon to launch) and now focusing all my energy on building my passion based business at Kaloo Wellness I know that 2019 will be a big year and I can’t wait to enjoy it with all the people I meet along the way. 🙂

Contacting Emer Flannery:

You can connect with Emer on Facebook, Instagram or send her an email.

By Emer Flannery

Science has estimated that we get 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day, amazing right!?! How many ideas are embedded in these thoughts? Some positive, some Nobel prize winning and maybe some wrapped in negative limitations.

Ideas…..are they 10 a penny or worth more? Or would one agree that it is the execution of ideas that make them worthy of the pedestal we put them on.

I write this as I reminisce on one of my entrepreneurial endeavours stemming back to 2012. I was armed with an idea, equipped with support from friends, family, Local Enterprise Offices, Female Entrepreneur programmes and business mentors, yet, my idea succumbed to the negative thoughts and self- doubts I let creep in like the lethal Japanese knotweed. These self-doubts wrapped around my precious idea and smothered it, instead of fighting it and protecting my idea, I chose a different path, what I believed to be freedom…greener pastures, travel, cultural insights.

It didn’t matter how far and how long I travelled for, my idea came with me, sitting there, unbeknownst to me, waiting patiently for me to take another look…and so this year, in 2018 I pressed the mental rewind button, found my grá, my passion, my “why” for my idea and this time I knew I was going to make it work.
Sadness overtook when I realised Iwas no longer the only person with this great idea…unlike in 2012 when the lightbulb first went off…now I have competition, and lots of it. A sense of bitter-sweetness washes over me but the lessons I am learning are priceless. My ideas and my thoughts are precious and they need protecting but most of all they need execution. Then I reminisce on the growth, the personal, mental , physical growth I have enjoyed since 2012. Is this what I always needed to be able to execute. Now in 2018, I am more stubborn, more focused, more driven, better connected, more knowledgeable. Event after event I attended focusing on this personal growth, with a constant drive to be a better person than the one I was yesterday, book after book I devoured, hungry for more knowledge, ensuring the 5 people I constantly surround myself with lift me higher, push me, help me grow. Was I even ready for the execution in 2012- my thoughts and reflection tell me that no I was not ready and now I know what I needed then and what I need now….growth in all aspects, self-kindness, purpose and execution. I see things differently now, and much better. Enterprise Ireland believe in my idea or believe in me or both so I will continue to grow and ensure this time I execute. For now I know the grass is oftentimes pretty amazing right where you are.

So what idea are you sitting on? What is stopping you from executing?

We can have many amazing ideas but will these remain as a mental construct that can leave you defeated and sad that you did not execute, so if I can give one piece of advice, grow quickly, execute quickly, instead of playing with the idea, breath life into it, make it work and if it doesn’t work, you will know you tried for “it is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried before.”

What is a good idea? #73 #cong18


The definition of a ‘good’ idea is changing for the better – enabled by good people and the rapid advancement of technology.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. For the first time in history, technology may be ahead of our ideas.
  2. There is real fear of proliferation of bad ideas.
  3. However, a number of factors are increasingly supporting the implementation of good ideas – ones that benefit humanity.
  4. In a more idea-friendly century, is ‘good’ good enough?

About Anne Wilson:

Born in Africa, made in Europe, refined in Asia and being reinvented in Ireland, Anne Wilson has worked primarily in Finance and Pharmaceuticals.
She worked in the operations departments of several London investment banks – primarily as a Six Sigma specialist – before switching to business and customer excellence roles in pharmaceuticals. As a Regional Commercial Excellence Director, based out of Singapore, her main interests were Innovation and Learning – and adapting programs for different cultures.
In Ireland, she has collaborated with her family on two projects and is a Wealth Partner in an exciting and ambitious global real estate start-up. She continues to explore Innovation, Learning , Entrepreneurship and Future Trends with a view to finding the best way to contribute to building a better future in Ireland.

Contacting Anne Wilson:

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

By Anne Wilson

What is a ‘good’ idea? I have been asked this question many times in my career. Well, there are all the obvious answers: an idea that has the potential to solve a problem, reduce risk, meet a customer need and ultimately make or save money…for the least amount of effort and cost.

But what I am invariably really being asked is ‘What is expected of me to make my boss happy?’. While pressure can have a positive effect on performance, I have rarely found this to be an ideal starting place for creative ideas – be they good or bad.

Firstly, it is very limiting for the ‘good’ classification to simply be a function of the opinion of a single person who has marginally more power than the team tasked with coming up with the idea. Also, if the team does not agree with an idea, there is a risk they will lack the commitment required to contribute sufficient energy and perseverance to implement the idea effectively. These tensions do not only exist in the corporate world. Have you ever had what you thought was a good idea, and then failed to execute on it yourself?

Secondly, no one knows whether an idea is good or bad until it has exited infancy and starts showing the promise of a teenager. For this, it needs testing, prototyping, evaluation, end-user validation and at the very minimum an objective, critical discussion with the right people.

Nevertheless, the question continues to linger in my mind. What is a good idea? Ideas are wonderful, fluid creations with undefined potential impact. The core essence of an idea can be implemented in a multitude of ways – depending on environment, culture, experience of the person leading the task, the team and available technology, resources and time.

Timing is also a factor. My grandfather’s comics and early television shows contained wonderful ideas that fired people’s imaginations and optimism for more elegant and exciting solutions to the everyday challenges they experienced. One of the main barriers to bringing these ideas to life was that the technology simply did not exist. Now it does. The internet has changed everything, and other technologies and fields of study have developed exponentially in recent years. Now ordinary people are overwhelmed by the diversity of new ideas and stunned to learn that most of them are not only possible but are already in existence and being tested for scaleability and commercialisation. Could it be that, for the first time in history, our technology is ahead of our ideas?

The speed at which new ideas are now being brought to life and spread (often globally) can be disconcerting, even frightening – what if someone uses this idea-friendly century for bad ideas? This is possible of course, but here is what gives me hope. The definition of a ‘good’ idea seems to be changing.

In recent years I have observed the most amazing environment being created for good ideas. Not simply ideas with commercial viability, but ideas that have potential for positive impact on humanity as a whole. Ideas related to healthcare, education and better social structures to allow us to live in harmony with each other and the planet.

If ideas are good, they tend to grow, evolve and even spread organically – good ideas go viral. Really good ideas receive crowdfunding and attract people with similar goals to help implement and share them. More formally, there are organisations which offer resources (eg. expertise, funding, access to labs, equipment, knowledge and networks) and awards to recognise good ideas – ones that will reduce human suffering and ignorance, ones that will empower more people to have a better lived experience.

Here is one final consideration for an idea to be classified as ‘good’. Will it be viable for all 7.5 billion people on this planet? It may improve the life of one person, but will there be a cost to the environment that everyone else needs to share? Is an idea great because it helps a million people? What if that same idea creates a negative impact on the health and security of others? New technologies, global networks of good people with diversified skills, perspectives and resources can solve problems with far greater sophistication than was possible in the past.

If your idea benefits some at the cost of the rest, it needs to be re-designed. Your good idea, even your great idea, is not yet your best idea.

Ideas: The Final Frontier in a Cloud Based World #72 #cong18


Recent advances in cloud based technology has helped remove many of the barriers of entry into the world of online based services. CMS tools like WordPress and Joomla let individuals quickly create new online marketplaces, discussion forums and much more. While cloud platforms like AWS and Azure allow for quick and cheap product scaling where you only pay for what you need and, importantly, don’t need to invest in upfront hardware costs. This enable applications to be tried and tested at a far greater pace that previously possible. Rather than the technology stack being the main barrier to getting a product out to market, the ideas underpinning the product is the final frontier.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Technological advancements in cloud infrastructure remove many barriers to entry for new tech companies.
  2. Ideas can be quickly developed, deployed and easily scaled up providing a competitive advantage.
  3. VC funding in the US reflects this reality that new ideas can get running in a short time.
  4. We need to reassess our approach to education and digital product design in this new environment.

About Declan Mungovan:

I spent the last 6 years working in the US as a computer programmer including 4 years in Silicon Valley.
I have a PhD in computer science and my work mostly focuses on scalable systems utilizing .Net, C#, SQL Server and Elasticsearch. I’ve worked on several projects that convert traditional application design into highly scale-able cloud based services.
I’m interested in startups and utilizing cloud based technologies to get them up and running.

Contacting Declan Mungovan:

You can contact Declan by email.

By Declan Mungovan

Sitting in your corporate cublical one morning you have a killer idea for an online marketplace that sells used cars. You know the public will love it and you want your idea out there as soon as possible. The only problem? It’s 2005. Tools like WordPress and Joomla are still in their infancy so you’ll have to hire a team of coders to write the HTML, CSS and PHP needed. You’ll need to buy an expensive server to traffic the data and ensure it’s connect to the network at speeds fast enough to serve up customer requests. And you better have a plan for scaling your hardware once it becomes a hit. After considering all this you go back to your desk job and forget about the idea.

Fast forward to 2018. You have another killer idea one morning. This time you download a WordPress theme, host it on AWS Lightsail and register a cool domain name. You submit an order on Fiverr to design a trend logo. Your product is up and running so you go for lunch.

The modern approach to software design leans more and more on the idea of just utilizing exactly what you need. This evolved from renting out remote server from companies like rackspace, to virtual servers on AWS or Azure. The latest trend towards contains and lambda functions streamlines the process even further.

The opportunities that have opened up in a cloud based world where the initial investment costs in expensive technology stacks has all but been removed can’t be underestimated. Even billion dollar companies (like the company I work for Xero) are migrating their entire technology stack to cloud based frameworks like AWS. Such is the industry wide confidence that the corporate world has in cloud based technology that they’re willing to place their entire customer data into the hands of a third party operator. Encryption, amongst other safeguards, has allayed many of the fears that data will be mismanaged by the outside service providers. Even highly publicised data breaches like the ones at Facebook haven’t tempered the cloud migration drive.

So we’re at a place where the main hurdles to new product development is moving from the hardware and software to the ideas that individuals or groups can generate. This is reflected in the way venture capital firms are investing in startups in Silicon Valley and other places. Rather than betting heavily on what is considered the best idea, investors are investing smaller amounts of seed funding on lots of ideas and seeing what works. The reality is that even though many will fail quickly a small fraction of “unicorns” may grow into highly successful businesses. This strategy would have been far more difficult in a world where getting started was far more complicated.

So this opens up questions about how we encourage and incubate ideas in this new digital landscape. The tools we teach in schools and universities and the mind set this engenders all need to be looked at. The “hacker” culture of Silicon Valley where an idea is quickly designed, built and rolled out goes against many of our older intuitions.

Why Students Say No to the Teachbot 3000 – and Why Second Level Education is Out of Ideas #71 #cong18


Where role does institutional education have when it comes to ideas? What are some of the obvious take aways for educators at the coal face of the secondary system; and what effect is our punitive assessment system having on creativity in the classroom?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. The joy had been completely sucked out of learning in our schools.
  2. Our assessment process is deeply flawed on many levels and is at the heart of much of what is wrong in the system
  3. Creative opportunities in the system are scarce and under-valued.
  4. Societal attitudes to post secondary educational opportunities needs to change dramatically.

About Terence O'Brien:

Educator. Chancer. Always on the look out for an idea or two – for the classroom or for life..

Contacting Terence O'Brien:

Coming soon

By Terrence O’Brien

Why Students Say No to the Teachbot 3000 – and Why Second Level Education is Out of Ideas

‘But why?’ I said, struck primarily by the uncharacteristically energetic response, particularly at the unearthly hour of 9.45am, when these poor teenagers hadn’t even had a chance yet to get on board a fortifying sausage roll or two at the early break.
‘Because……,’ began one emphatically.
‘Because…..well….,’ added another.
‘Because……because…….sure it’s obvious,’ yet another helpfully rowed in.
‘Is it?’ I said, bemused and baffled in equal measure.
‘Yeah it is,’ said the first. ‘It is obvious. Sure if all we had was a robot standing up there, then who’d make us do stuff.’
‘Make ye do stuff?’
‘Exactly, who’d MAKE us do stuff?’
‘Christ’, I thought, any remaining semblance of vocational passion that the hardworking teacher-trainers of UCC had infused in me finally dissipating.
‘So that’s what I’m here for – to make ye do stuff?’
‘Stuff like learning?’

So that was it. For one brief moment I had believed that the pinnacle of this class discussion, based around a newspaper article on an army of robot teachers calling the shots in future classrooms, was the revelation that I was actually appreciated, maybe even needed. Unfortunately, that revelation came with a slight caveat: yes I was needed, but primarily to make them learn – force them to acquire the body of knowledge that the Irish education system demands that they know, even if it’s only for a few hours. Get in to the exam, spit it out onto the paper, then forget about it and get on with your life. Get yourself to a decent college, in a decent town, with a decent night life. And forget all that stuff you were force fed back in school.

None of this is truly any way revelatory to anybody with even a passing knowledge of life in the secondary school system. The class group mentioned here (ordinary level leaving certs, mainly boys, mainly lower down the socio-economic scale) are just one group, but they are, in my experience, deeply representative of a considerable cohort of students for whom school and learning is seen as an inflicted chore, and for whom it is only ever seen as a means to an end. And for many, especially boys, that end (a third level qualification) is more often than not only serving to appease parents for whom nothing less is considered socially acceptable.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity a couple of years ago to travel with some colleagues to Finland, to spend a week observing the famous Finish education system in action.

What ideas took root as we shadowed our Scandinavian colleagues? Many, as it happens.

The standouts: that we need to move significantly away from the model that guides, pushes, forces many of our young people into a third level academic institution that in no way meets their needs, nor nurtures their talents; that more vocational avenues can be – and are – successful.

The idea too, that a high stakes terminal exam is a horrendous and entirely unsuitable way to measure educational ability and performance; not to mention the dramatic impact on self-esteem and mental health. And not to forget, of course, ideas themselves, and the blatantly obvious disparity between a highly successful educational system, economy and society like the Finns have developed, where the classroom is a creative space in which idea formation and development are given the highest of priorities; and our own, where the joy is sucked out of learning by the information stuffing model demanded by our state exams, where so much is decided regarding the futures of our young people.

Where in our system is the self-directed student being nurtured? Where is the autonomous learner, making steady progress on their learning for life mission? Where are students given space to take ownership of their own education? Why are they not emerging armed with an expanding skillset that will serve them in all aspects of their increasingly complex lives?

The students that are graduating from our schools are in theory the most educated we have ever produced. But the rub is: What defines ‘educated’ and within that, how do we measure in a meaningful way that education? I firmly believe that the current model, where we churn out so many that appear versed in so much, but yet skilled in so little, is failing our economy; more importantly it’s failing our society; and worst of all, it’s failing these young people. It’s time for some dramatically different ideas.

Another Great Idea! What Next? #70 #cong18


We have many great ideas, but often struggle with bringing those to life. There is no secret sauce or prescription of how to do it right, nevertheless there are some things I’ve done to help that seem to help the process.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. For ideas to take off there are some useful steps to take.
  2. Check that your idea is making it better (easier, faster or cheaper) for people to do something they need or want to do.
  3. You don’t need to be an expert already. There are lots of data points easily available you can use and analyse.
  4. Create prototypes and minimum viable products to get meaningful feedback from real customers.
  5. Surround yourself with great people – ambitious problem-solvers.

About Brendan Hughes:

Brendan, originally from Meath, lives in Dublin with three children. He has worked in a number of large Irish organisations such as VHI, FBD, BoyleSports and most recently INM. He has also lived in Gibraltar where he worked with a global affiliate marketing company. In his roles he focuses on creating consumer-focused digital product and marketing propositions.

Contacting Brendan Hughes:

You can follow Brendan on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn or see his blog

By Brendan Hughes

I have a gazillion ideas. About how I can change the way the world works, about making things easier or better for people. Over my career working in companies, I’ve managed to bring some of my ideas to life. I wouldn’t say that there is a secret sauce or a prescription of how to do it right, nevertheless there are some things I’ve done to help that seem to help the process; to get buy-in from my peers and to ensure that we create something that does actually make sense to other people.

We know that many of the most successful start-ups fixed a problem that was felt by enough people in order to make their idea grow and be a success. Most times the ideas we can bring to life are not as momentous as an Uber or an AirBnB. While I’ve had some really big ideas, the ideas I’ve managed to actualise are generally solving much smaller problems. Regardless, nothing you do will be a success unless you are somehow providing an easier or better (easier, faster, cheaper) way for people to do something they need or want to do.

I haven’t always been a subject matter expert in the industries I’ve worked in, so to ensure that I’m actually solving real problems, I gather and analyse data from customers to validate my assumptions. In a digital world there are masses of easily accessible data sources – web analytics (which tells me where people are getting stuck), customer research (which allows me to question users), customer support conversations (which record the pain points of frustrated customers) and social media (which is a preferred place for people to go to rant). Talk to customers directly if you can. Listen to these sources with cool objectivity to identify the pain points.

Customer research can be really annoying. Very often your potential customers will tell you what you want to hear. Me: “Do you think it would be a good idea if I fixed this problem in such an such a way?” Potential Customer: “Yes, sure Brendan. That sounds like a great idea.” Very few people have ever told me my idea was shit. We like to be nice to each other, which is great, but leads to false outcomes.

So, I’ve learned to paint pictures and create prototypes to draw out meaningful feedback. The best prototypes are those customers can interact with. Find some real people, that are close matches to your main customer personas, and sit with them watching them interact with your prototype. See their reactions first hand to gauge how close you are to solving their problem in a better way. Watch where they get stuck. And watch for the emotional queues that tell you are on to something.

The problem with the research and design phase of ideation is that it will never be conclusive enough. Until you have your idea in the market in front of people in such a way that they can actually pay, subscribe, buy or “commit” – you still know very little. But creating a whole product and marketing experience can be expensive and high-risk.

What we’re talking about is focusing on creating an MVP – a minimum viable product that meets the core need you are setting out to address. It doesn’t need to fix all aspects of the problem, just the part that is important enough for people to say “Yes, I’ll pay for that”.

Sometimes even getting there is too hard. So you can create a proxy. Something else that you can use to assess the appetite of customers. You learn shed loads when you have your product in the real world. You can begin to assess the reaction of customers. You can play with pricing, packaging and marketing. Your assumptions get turned on their head. Your original idea might turn out to be a dud, but you’ll have discovered something else that makes much more sense.

In all of this, the most important thing to do is surround yourself with great people. Not just people who will agree with your vision of the future, but people who are comfortable with the journey, who are willing to take risks and who are eager to try new things.

In big companies, many people live in a state of fear. Worrying about all kinds of things that don’t help to get things done for the customer. Keep those people away from your ideas. Bring in people who are going to challenge the idea, but who are also going to positively act to make it work. 95% of people are problem-finders, 5% are problem-solvers (I made up those numbers). Hang out with the ambitious problem-solvers.

The Idea of You and Me #69 #cong18


We are social beings, who take a lot of cues and clues about who we are from our external environment. In many social situations much of what we say, feel and do is controlled by our unconscious thoughts. If we understand how we are affected by our thoughts, could we unlock different ways of thinking, feeling and acting?

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. You are not who you think you are
  2. Your own imagination is often wrong
  3. Your choice of mirrors matters
  4. Once you understand the interplay between society and personal, you can begin to understand yourself.

About Jane Leonard:

Jane Leonard runs Useful, a training company, based in Cork. She works with a diverse client base but has a particular interest in help small business harness the power of digital media.

Jane is also a part time lecturer at Cork Institute of Technology. She is currently researching the experience of International students studying Entrepreneurship in Ireland.

Contacting Jane Leonard:

You can follow Jane on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or email her.

By Jane Leonard

According to American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley, how comfortable you feel in social situations is greatly influenced by how you believe other people perceive you.

Over 100 years ago, Cooley developed the concept of the Looking Glass Self to explain how your idea of who you are is not just a biological state but is the result of our interactions with others. He suggests that we do not always see ourselves as we are but as how we believe others see us. So, the people with whom we interact become mirrors that reflect an image of us that we then interpret. Not always correctly or accurately.

There are 3 parts to Cooley’s theory

  1. We imagine how others perceive us
  2. We imagine how others are judging us based on that (real or imagined) perception
  3. We interpret how that person feels about us, based on that perception.

When I introduce his theory to my students, they often struggle with the core concepts. The students are confident outgoing and had assumed they were fully responsible for the person development. Once we begin to explore the theory, they become more intrigued.

One of the most telling examples of the looking glass self is when a student raises her hand and asks a question in class.

In that moment of vulnerability, she notices the verbal feedback and nonverbal feedback from the room. If the reflection from the room is positive, she may feel her questions was a good question, that people see her as insightful to have asked that question. Such students often become more engaged in the class discussion and in the course work and ultimately do better.

Students who believe they have received a negative reflection where the lecturer or the students appear impatient or sigh deeply the student perceives their reaction and begins to view themselves as naïve or gauche for asking that question.

Cooley believes that even as adults we develop the idea of who we are through our interactions with our peers, our family and our friends. Not just our actual interactions but how we perceive their judgement of us in those interactions.

If you’re with a group of people and you make a joke, and everyone laughs, you might begin to see yourself as a bit of a comedian. You adopt the looking glass, the mirror image of yourself you believe is being reflected back to you by others. Vice versa, if you say something intelligent, and you believe that this image reflected back to you, you might begin to see yourself as intelligent.

So Cooley’s, theory is that, it is not what people think of us that is important; it is what we imagine they think of us

One by one, in isolation, different interactions won’t make you think you’re stupid or intelligent, but if these patterns get repeated again and again throughout your lifetime, you develop an image of yourself that is given to you from without, from interaction with others.

We use socially constructed meanings of success, failure, gender or hierarchy to help us decide who to interact with and how we should interact with them. We also use this subjective lens to interpret the meaning of a person’s words or actions, not always accurately. These conscious and unconscious thought can have a powerful influence on us. One remarkable or personal incident can change our self-concept forever.

Cong as a hall of mirrors

This unconference at Cong is a very particular Hall of Mirrors. We come together as  a mix of more seasoned peeps and newer, first timers at the event. Although we come here as individuals our experience of the event is shaped by the responses, we believe we receive from other.

Coming to Cong for this unconference changes people.

It is intimate and intimidating, seems not to care about formal hierarchy, welcomes people, unsettles people, nurtures people and ultimately challenges people.

I believe that the looking glass or mirror effect is more easily triggered at Cong where the ideas, thoughts, notions and debate can be free-flowing and organic. Being in such an environment can make people even more vulnerable as they share ideas or connect with other ideas in new ways.

So important to come to Cong, but not enough to come to Cong and live in the familiar bubble for two days. This is especially important for those of us who have come more than once. We need to reach out and hear new ideas. We need to understand that our reactions to other people are creating a perception which can help people to feel they belong, that they are interesting or that they can connect with us after the event.

Spreading Ideas #68 #cong18


Rural Communities need a vision that’s strongly held

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Coming soon.

About Tracy Keogh:

Community Manager with BOI, worker at Grow Remote

Contacting Tracy Keogh:

You can follow Tracy on Twitter.

By Tracy Keogh

Can you see it? You’re in the burren You wake up and grab a cup of coffee, you’re looking out on a big front lawn with a view of pure nature.

You get the kids ready and they go to the local school via a ride sharing app that distributes the school runs between parents, you’d call the autonomous car, but Cillian and Meghan would kill each other if they had 10 minutes without supervision. Machines haven’t totally killed the need humans it seems, although you’d pay premium for the service. The school they go to has a brilliant pupil to teacher ratio and every kid is encouraged to be themselves, because the time is there to understand them individually.

They go and you travel 20 minutes on open roads. You’re working in a local coworking space because yes there’s internet there…but also, humans. You call Budapest to work with your favourite Hungarian. They talk to you over Zoom and because the culture is built on a distrusted model, you’ve learnt to start conversations by getting to know them. They always have crazy stories about the ruin bars - it’s an escape into a totally different world as well as getting that international experience we need to grow our careers.

The rest of the day is pretty average, you do work between the computer and you. You happen to hear a debate on local radio: “It’s well and good for the tech workers, sure you can work for Google in the Burren, but what about us taxi drivers?”. They used to have a crucial role in local communities but now they’ve been taken over by machines. The unfairness. Luckily, our government were fairly clear on this - JLR were building autonomous cars in Shannon, we knew what was coming. So for the 2 years prior, we ran re-skilling programmes and a lot of those taxi drivers are now teaching the machines. The reskilling programmes have worked in some parts, but conversation begins to turn towards universal basic income.

You do a 10 hour day and still get home for 6.30pm. Your partner picked up some incredible home grown vegetables that morning, the farmers market providing some of the tastiest food again. You cook dinner and have it ready for after a cycle - luckily, your community has realised the value of building infrastructure for lifestyle, because that’s what communities are competing on now. The cycle lanes are the perfect mix of scenery, challenge, and relief.

Back home for 9, dinner in and you hop on a call with the US. They’re just starting on a project and need your support. No problem putting a couple of hours in now, you can get them back, that’s part of this remote, flexible thing.

You spend an hour watching some rubbish TV and you walk up to your spacious bedroom. Today you’ve worked in Budapest, the burren, and the US but never left Clare. You’ve ate food that nourishes you, you’ve supported local, you’ve spent all of your time on the things you chose to do. Everything is purposeful. There’s no part of your day that’s imposed on you.

The future of mobility and ways of working have collided and everyone’s jealous of those who invested in this way of life in the 2000’s. They’re stuck in these cities, these offices, because the price of houses has been driven up so much in rural areas - rural is now the realistic dream. The backwards companies? They’re in cities. The forward thinking companies let you be, wherever that may be.

Of course this brings with it it’s own set of problems, but isn’t that equal unfairness the dream?

This is my idea of rural Ireland, and why I can physically feel it hurt when I hear “post offices are the death of rural Ireland”. I think we’re clinging to the past because we have no clear, tangible, real, vision of the future. Plenty of people have plenty of ideas of what rural Ireland could be, but it’s about time we focused on spreading that?

And I’m only left to wonder how does that idea spread, and to add a little to the conversation, what of the strategic communications unit?