Champion or Underperformer #16 #cong18


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Paul Passemard:

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

Contacting Paul Passemard:

You can contact Paul by eMail.

By Paul Passemard

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Claude Warren:

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

Contacting Claude Warren:

You can contact Claude by eMail.

By Claude Warren

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Innovative Ideas #14 #cong18


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Victor del Rosal:

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

Contacting Victor del Rosal:

You can contact Victor on LinkedIn.

By Victor del Rosal

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

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

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

Defining innovative ideas

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

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

Innovation as an algorithmic problem

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

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

Swimming in data

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

We are the sensors: Google Traffic

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


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

Anticipatory shipping by Amazon

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

AI-driven flash innovation

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

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

Starting small

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

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

Playing with ideas

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

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

Kissing Frogs: Thoughts From Being Rejected #7 #cong17


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Iain Morrow:

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

Contacting Iain Morrow:

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

Kissing frogs: thoughts from being rejected.

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

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

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

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

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

If it just did this one other thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Clare Dillon:

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

Contacting Clare Dillon:

You can connect with Clare on LinkedIn or email her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lnnovation = Big Bucks #33 #cong17


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Helena Deane:

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

Contacting Helena Deane:

You can contact Helean by eMail.

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

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

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

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

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

Identify, Isolate, Destroy #42 #cong17


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Liam Ó Móráin:

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

Contacting Liam Ó Móráin

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

By Liam Ó Móráin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Conor O’Brien:

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

Contacting Conor O'Brien

You can contact Conor by email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time to Wake Up! #50 #cong17


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Eileen Forrestal:

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

Contacting Eileen Forrestal:

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

By Eileen Forrestal.

The Cave You Fear To Enter …

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

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

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

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

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

The darkness of the night disappears with the rising sun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone asked me recently what was I afraid of ?

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

That answer brought another question.

How could I be known?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My marriage failed. My relationship with myself was suffering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is curiosity not the key to everything …

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

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

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

What was my trap?

The fear.

What was my fear … stuttering and being judged ?

How could I get out of the trap?

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

Speak up  … risk the stutter ..

and risk being judged.

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

What Happened?

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

I was so happy

People said I was shining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True innovation requires new and creative thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

Me, Myself and the Entrepreneur. #51 #cong17


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

4 Key Takeaways:

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

About Alan Dowling:

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

Contacting Alan Dowling:

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

By Alan Dowling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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