A Cat in the Cupboard #30 #cong23 #reality


For something as real as reality who knew that writing about it could open so many avenues of exploration. If everyone perceives the world through their own unique perspective/lens, then there are arguably as many realities as there are people in the world! I thought that at least science was absolute in its reality but then I considered that it too is on its own voyage continuous discovery so is only ‘reality for right now’. I want more from reality than potentially shifting sands. So here it is, by starting with Quantum Superpositions (IYKYK) and winding up dead, I’ve shared in this post the four dosage levels for Delusion, my drug of choice for coping with, escaping and changing reality. Don’t take them all at once or you’ll get nothing done for the rest of the day.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Schrondinger’s cat was used as a thought experiment originally designed to reflect Schrodinger’s challenging of the principles of quantum superpositions – something I know nothing about. But the layman’s interpretation is that if you seal a cat in a cupboard with something that can eventually kill it, the cat is both simultaneously alive AND dead until you open the cupboard and reveal which of those two possibilties is real. Is our time on earth just one giant cupboard where any reality is a possibility and any possibility a reality until we are definitively dead?
  2. The reality of life is not all halcyon days of sunshine and flowers. Most of us consider the realities of life something that needs to be escaped or changed at least from time to time. For some that escapism can be medically or chemically induced. I prefer Delusion – flights of fancy, daydreaming, wistful thinking and even hardcore manifesting. What harm can it do.
  3. Having completed this I wonder if I have missed the third path, the path of acceptance. Maybe instead of escaping reality or trying to change it, accepting it is the other option. In a world where we’re constantly encouraged to strive towards something else/other, we might find a greater peace by seeking shelter in place.
  4. Nothing is more real, more incontrovertible and less open to interpretation or perception that being confronted with the reality of death. I can imagine away anything but that.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan Mulvihill, career flaneuse, artist and technology evangelist who thinks and talks at the intersection of human creativity and the digitalisation of everything else. Her artistic practice actively informs her thinking on technology and the future of organisations as she fine tunes the balance between being data driven but human led. “We don’t shape the future by having all the right answers but by asking the right questions”.

Joan is the Digitalisation and Sustainability Lead for Siemens, a professional artist, a board member of the Contemporary Irish Art Society (CIAS), the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) and the Industrial Research and Development Group (IRDG). An experienced public speaker having addressed Cultural Festivals in France, Music festivals in Ireland and Business Conferences all over.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can connect with Joan by email, Instagram, X or LinkedIn

By Joan Mulvihill

There is a cat trapped, simultaneously alive and dead, in a cupboard and a tree has fallen outside in an empty forest without making a noise. Who knows. Reality.

I had intended writing something lighthearted this year. It was going to be called, “Delusion, my drug of choice”. Alcohol, cigarettes, trippy tabs or herbally induced hiatus – they will all work for a while, the side effects are high risk and can be brutal. They can even un-real you altogether.

Disappointment is as bad as it gets with Delusion and I can handle that. The trick is managing the dosage. I’ve categorised four dosage levels as follows:

Level 1: Flights of Fancy. This is a small dose, inspired by a passing idea and nothing grounded to too much, dare I say it, reality. Effects lasts 2-3 minutes. Example: Having a ‘running away from home’ moment. Limited impulse control required. Unlikely I’ll quit my job, walk out the door never to return. Low level escapism.

Level 2: Day Dreaming. Higher dosage, may last anywhere from 30 minutes to a few lost hours. Possible but improbable escapism. Effective by staring into space or with eyes closed but may also incorporate artificial external stimulus. Example: Escaping to the country/city. Google searching homes in desirable places that are just out of reach. Low level investments can be made to support the day dream such buying lottery tickets and not checking the numbers. The longer you don’t know you haven’t won, the longer you have won. You’re the cat in the cupboard, all at once a millionaire and not.

Level 3: Wistful Thinking. This can often be confused with the day dream but involves more specific concerns and tends to be more grounded in nature. This is higher level delusion in that you may risk believing the impossible could actually happen. You wist at your peril. Like the Day Dream, external stimulus can support the delusion, e.g. Fortune Tellers, Online Dating Apps, Add to Cart (WARNING – do not proceed to payment, it’s a delusion, you cannot afford it!!!!! ).

Level 4: Manifesting. This is a high dose delusion. Less accidental mind scrolling and more intentional focus. Typically it centres on a very specific outcome, person, object, role. It involves BELIEVING in your delusion. This believing makes it high risk with side-effects including profound disappointment and hopelessness. Best suited to very patient, long-gaming, bouncing back optimists. Not suited to those with rejection intolerances or pessimistic tendencies. Also, just as there is Big Pharma, there is also an emerging Big Mani. Big Mani will have you believe that if your manifestation has not been realised it is because you did not believe enough but if you just buy this other book or subscribe to these coaching sessions, you too can have a better reality. Your delusions can happen. I am a long game optimist who is hardened to rejection. I’ll cope. Just don’t end up in a cult. Stranger things have happened.

Delusion is of course predicated on some desire to ‘change’ reality or at very least escape it for short periods. The thing is that everything is already changing all of the time anyway. Eventually science fiction becomes science fact and even existing science has the potential to be disproven with new theories and hypotheses.

In words of Einstein, “imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand”. See. Einstein was all for a bit of delusion too it seems. It takes imagination to day dream, to have flights of fancy. We’re in good company.

They say as long as there is life there is hope. Maybe it can be just as true to say that as long as there is hope there is life. Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead as long as I don’t open the cupboard door. I can keep the cat alive by keeping hope alive and the cupboard door closed. But once I open that door and I see that cat is dead, then there is no hope, and no life. I cannot delude myself to believing the cat to be alive in the face of its very real death. I cannot perceive the cat to be anything but dead once I can see that it is dead. Nothing is more real to me than death. In my experience of life the only thing I can truly categorise as REAL, as immutable, incontrovertible, and irreversible is death. The only reality of life is in fact death. Everything before death is open to interpretation, a function of perspective, discovery, time.

And if I am a cat? Keep that door shut. I am high on delusion and this is surreal.

An Ordinary Life #54 #cong22


Somehow Purpose has been hijacked by ‘Higher’ but what about living a flaneuring life in search of nothing more but beauty and love. Is having a ‘higher’ Purpose essentially ego-driven and what of the noble dignity of stewardship and love?

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Key Takeaways:

  1. You don’t need a burning bush
  2. What about the flaneur/flaneuse? Is anything really without purpose? Who decides what’s ‘worthy’?
  3. There’s greatness in the ordinary life of love and stewardship
  4. Our quest for ‘more’ for ‘greatness’ may well have caused the imbalance in the world… Maybe if we’d stuck to the ordinary lives lived helping and healing what is within in the concentric circles of where we are…

About Joan Mulvihill:

Flaneuse, Artist, Non-Techie Techie, Happy Imposter
10th year of Cong and next year will be my 50th of life. Cong is my Christmas gift to myself every year.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can reach Joan by email or see her work on Instagram or her website


By Joan Mulvihill

Mark Twain – The two most important days of our lives are the day we are born and the day we find out why – Why am I here? What is my purpose?

The idea an epiphanic day, a burning bush, getting the call, some out of body experience when I realise that my life is to serve some greater purpose than my own self-indulgence… What if I never have such a moment? What if I never find my purpose?

What if I just flaneur my way through life – that casual way of wandering without any apparent sense of direction or purpose while being secretly attuned to it all in subconscious searching for nothing more than beauty, adventure, love? Could that be enough? Is just being alive to the beauty of it all enough?

What is the purpose of such an ordinary life – one with no greater purpose than to live, be, do our best to love within the tight concentric circles that ripple out from where we are.

I know such a man – he lived an ordinary life of love in the stewardship of his square miles. Is there a greater nobility and dignity than the necessary setting aside of all ego for the purpose of stewardship? You see stewardship to me is an acknowledgement that we don’t really ‘own’ anything, we are just part of the grand continuum. I think it requires an acceptance of our smallness on the earth in the context of all the universe and the brevity of our time on the earth in the context of the infinity of it at all.

Is there a higher purpose, a greater noble cause than to find love, appreciate its simple but rich value and to protect it in that place where we are?

Then the Alien Came Looking for Spartacus #10 #cong21


 I have taken a tongue in cheek satirical approach to my piece this year.  Conceptually I wanted to create something as laughable and ludicrous as some of our world ‘leaders’ have become.  Sometimes the situation is so dire that satire is the only way to go.  I am generally an optimistic person but I do wonder in despondency at the lack of real leadership in the world. We have an abundance of managers and bureaucrats in suits and ties squaring off against media megalomanics and techie attitude punks in jeans, t-shirts and woolly jumpers.   They swing from right to left with no sense of right or wrong.  That’s not leadership.  They crave the attentions and the powers of the very people they profess to despise – yet the truth is that they don’t actually despise their vision, they simply resent and covet their power.  These are the leaders who want power for their own ends and ego. Our following of them quite literally empowers them and so if we want better leaders then maybe we should try to be more discerning followers.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. Leaders could be anyone really so the question is ‘would YOU follow them?’  People follow evil cult leaders all the time. They are effective leaders for sure but they are bad ones.  Leadership is not in itself a good thing, there needs to be a ‘right’ goal.   To some extent, followers make leaders so if we want better leaders then maybe we should try to be more discerning followers.
  2. Leadership that I am prepared to follow is a combination of the following  – a moral compass that points to a vision for a better future with the capability to communicate it and the commitment to go there.   That is just me.  What about you?  Do we think enough about who we choose to follow?
  3. When the alien comes looking for the Spartacus leaders we need to make sure they are protected.  Our future good leaders need and deserve our protection because leaders are neither entirely infallible nor supremely strong.  They are human too. Great leaders acknowledge and respect the trust placed in them and will act accordingly and without entitlement.
  4. Just as the concepts of leadership and following are intertwined, so too are leadership and insurrection/anarchy/rebellion.  So with that in mind, taking a satirical approach to my piece has been my nod to that.

About Joan Mulvihill:

 Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Mulvihill

Dear King of Cong,

I am so sorry this is so late but you will never believe what happened.  I was mowing the lawn at the weekend and the aliens landed in my garden and my plans to write my Congregation piece got scuppered.   To be honest, at first I thought it was the low autumn sun playing tricks on my eyes but it was definitely a little space ship although as luck would have it, the first thing he asked of me was “Take me to your leader”!  Ironic given my plans for writing on the topic but a little problematic as I had no idea who he was referring to.  Sure where was I going to find a decent leader in the garden, or anywhere else for that matter.  Anyway we got chatting and it turns out his space ship wiring got crossed with a time travelling Delorean and he was in the wrong era altogether.  It turns out he was looking for Spartacus.

I tried to explain there was a timing issue but he was quite insistent that Spartacus was the man and  despite much trying on my part to redirect him it seems alien men won’t listen to directions from women either!  So I had to take him into the house and we googled it.  I showed him what we had by way of political and business leaders.  He was none too impressed but sure would you blame him.  Mark Zuckerberg’s a pretty pathetic looking sight when you’ve a roman gladiator in mind and in fairness the politicians weren’t up to much either.  It was all a very embarrassing and sorry state of affairs.

But god love him, he’d come a long way and I didn’t want to send him back on an empty stomach or empty handed so I offered him a cup of tea and a scone before I sent him packing.  (Thank god I’d some scones left over from baking that morning – did I mention the bishop was here last week and he told me my scones were ‘fluffy’!  High praise indeed I reckon.)  He’s a grand lad, the alien, not the bishop (although he’s perfectly nice too, he’s from Cork) and we got chatting.  I said that if he liked we could at least watch the movie Spartacus.  I hadn’t seen it in years and sure you can’t beat a bit of Kirk Douglas.  Camile Thai has just opened in Mullingar too so it was a grand opportunity to go wild and get a takeway.

Now after the movie I found I’d accidentally landed on a football match on the telly.   Football. You know me, I haven’t a sodding clue about football but yer man, my little friend was agog at the whole thing.  But this is a crucial point in the story.  The clincher as it happens.  Man U were playing. Now I may not know much about football but you would need to have lived under a rock (or be an alien) not to have heard of Marcus Rashford.  Now there’s a leader I said to him. He’s a campaigner against racism, homelessness and child hunger.  He has a vision and ideas for how the world can be better for his community and country and he is putting his own voice, actions and energy into making real change. Now there’s a fellow you could follow.  Isn’t that what a leader is I said, someone you would follow!  Never mind Spartacus, Marcus is the real deal.

With that he was out the door but not without taking the last of the Singapore Noodles  (I am not happy about that!).   He’s probably half way to Manchester by now.  What am I saying? The speed of him, he’s probably half way home by now, assuming he didn’t get stuck in the traffic at Felixstowe.  Isn’t it an awful mess since Brexit?

Anyway, it all turned out okay.  He’ll go back to his people and tell them we’ve got 23 year olds with a moral compass pointing to compassion, a bank balance they’d rather use to feed school children than splash on cars and a voice that can speak the truth to the twats whose idea of a moral compass is a rusty cockerel atop a wonky weather vane spinning in a hurricane!

To be honest, when I think of it, its abit of a shame there was no boxing on the telly.  I could have sent him off in search of Kellie Harrington although she’d hate all the fuss but we can’t have the aliens thinking all the leaders are men!  We’ve had enough of that around here.

Anyway, I’ll do my best to get a submission in soon.  The dog didn’t exactly eat my homework but the alien did eat my noodles!

All the best,



On the subject of noodles, my four ‘takeaways’ from this piece are served in side-order portions to the left of this many body article.  For a less salty interpretation of my thoughts on leadership please, if you can, take the time to read them too.

Society #25 #cong20


 I’ve written a poem this year so a summary of it could result in a higher wordcount than the poem itself!  It’s a stream of consciousness of my fragmented thoughts on a dispersed and fragmented society.  As for what Society 3.0 will be, the poem reflects my uncertainties of what society is at all, how it changes, who changes it and the forces within it; technology, politics, the masses, the minorities, the individual.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. I was struck by the idea that society is everything and nothing.  It’s an artificial collective, a human construct of an idealised movement by the powerful.    The very word is laden with arch last century terms like ‘polite society’ and ‘high society’.   The origin of the poem is in the countless word associations of society adjectives, synonyms and metaphors – each grappling to make sense of it.
  2. Society allows for abdication of responsibility.Society should do this, society must do that, its society’s fault…who is society?  Is it everyone or no one or just everyone else? (Hence, “Society’s you…, society’s me”.  I couldn’t bring myself to write the manifesto of the new normal society when I can’t decide if it’s occurs by accident or by design.  Are we the masters of society’s destiny or does society master us, are we caught in its current?
  3. In this most uncertain chaotic year when the tendency is to grasp for certainty and grab at order, I was unable to get to grips with this Society “design” challenge. We’ve talked all year about how we are ‘together apart’.  Maybe I’ve bypassed together and moved straight to apart, detached from society and social engagement and for now it feels too far away to discern its shape.

About Joan Mulvihill

Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Mulvihill.


Society? Anxiety

Dis-ease, Unease

Social Media

Retweet Please


A bot, a troll

A Russian spy

Machine Learning

Smart AI


Nothing’s real

All fake news

Hack my profile

Walk my shoes


Sometimes high

Extreme polite

Thin veneer

Shine the light



Darker sides

Live in hope

Of turning tides


Fabrics ripped

Colours worn

All a cover

Now its blown


Just a word

Do what’s right

All can change

Voters might


Crowds roar

Placards care

Rocking boats

Who would dare?


Such decorum

Tidy, neat

Agree with all

Safest seat


Powers shift

Sands too

Time’s up

Society’s you!



Still at sea?

Now your time’s up

Society’s me!

Community – The Essence of the matter! #52 #cong19


I wanted to look at community beyond its governance and architecture. The rational constructs we put around the word focus on things like shared values, shared goals, all rooted in some kind of commonality.  But actually, I think its difference that separates “community” from tribes and families.  I thought about how I experienced it growing up in a smaller rural town.  Yes, there were committees and action groups but they were just the actions and manifestations of a deeper invisible force that unleashes itself when it is needed.  Most of us aren’t actively aware of our ‘community’ until the shit hits the fan or there are jobs to be done.   I referenced the John Donne poem at the end.   No man is an island… All the people make up the community whether we are actively engaged or not.  Small towns are often accused of being gossiping and small minded but I think that’s unfair.  Yes, people do talk about people but its through these stories that we find understanding and compassion.  The alternative is not to know, not to understand, not to care.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an invisible energy force that is the ‘essence’ of the matter from which it is derived – that matter is people.It is activated and unleashed when there is something to be done.
  2. Where Community is strong, everyone matters.Some are more active agents than others but through stories, no one even those at the fringes, is invisible.  Through stories, there is understanding, forgiveness, compassion and inclusion.
  3. All places have ‘community’ but not all places have great community.I think the gap is in the silence.  Community and communication are intrinsically linked.  Where communication of is weak, the essence of community is faint.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Muvihill

Community exists in places but is not a place.  It manifests itself in actions but is not an action.  It can  come from a tribe of ‘same’ but more often is strengthened by difference.  Community is channelled through friends as well as sometimes enemies.  It is the invisible force that awakens and unleashes itself when it is needed, when something happens, in the face of adversity, when there are jobs to be done.  Is it maybe, the most pure essence of a place?  An essence is the resonant characteristics of the matter from which it is made, the resonance of the emotional, physical and spiritual attributes of that matter. The matter from which the essence ‘community’ is drawn is the people of that place.

People are to others, their stories – the narrated emotional, physical or spiritual attributes of those people as seen and told by others.  The deeper the stories, the stronger the essence.  Stories allow us to see and understand others.

How do I narrate the stories of the ‘different’ people from where I grew up – because some of them were most decidedly ‘different’.

One rode through the town on his bicycle carrying a horse whip.  One endlessly walked the back roads carrying plastic bags of heaven knows what and another dyed her hair with brown shoe polish that made it matted and mauve.  Just in one town, with one street – the one where I grew up.   Yes, they were strange but they weren’t strangers.  Some were not loved by everyone but each was loved by someone once.  In that small town, everyone knew their back story or at least some version of it.  Some sad and tragic, some funny, some dramatic but mostly ending in a compassionate “Shur, God love them..”   I have chosen these three because their stories were as much the source of matter for the essence of our community as anyone else’s and more than that, it made them matter.  Strong ‘community’ includes everyone, even those on the fringes of it.  You see, my earliest experience of community is not of how we were bound together by ‘same’ but rather how our community embraced difference and came from understanding, compassion and inclusivity.

Small town community is commonly portrayed as gossiping stories where small minds talk about people.  Stopping in the shop or nursing pints on the bar; whispering voices talking blow-ins, begrudgers and bullshitters, notions and nonsense. And that’s on a good day! Not much community there you’d say.  But you’d be so wrong because you should see them on a bad day…

On a bad day, high-vis jackets over funeral overcoats stand in the rain directing traffic.  Floating plates of funeral sandwiches, endless pots of tea on china cups are passed rattling on saucers to old and shaking hands.   Strangers wonder where the tea towels are kept and if there is more milk for the jug and sugar for the bowl as they take turns washing up and all the while moving from small talk to great stories. They don’t come for the stories but they are there because of them – the same stories they traded in the shop and over the bar yes, but they are the stories that bind us.

Where stories are strong, community is strong and when the essence of community is unleashed and thickens the air and you can’t help but take it in.  It gives energy to efforts. It soothes old wounds long enough to get jobs done.  It puts old differences into soft focus when you rub it into tired eyes to keep going.   Community has tidied its towns, cleared its roads, shared its fodder, buried its dead, saved hay and saved lives.

No man is an island,

Entire of Itself

Everyman is a piece of the continent

A part of the main,

If a clod be washed away by the sea

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were

As well as if a manor of thy friends;

Or if thine own were,

Any man’s death diminishes me

Because I am involved in Mankind

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624 from Meditation 17.  

We are the matter that from which the essence of a place is derived.  Simply being alive is to be involved in mankind. Some people have just short lives, some spend their lives at the fringes, but community is drawn from everyone of a place and indeed it is often those at the fringes that can need it and feel it most acutely.  I am sure that one day I will find myself on the fringe ‘of the main’ too, inhaling deeply on the last of the essence before the bell tolls….


“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”.   Was John Donne talking about Brexit in 1624 too?

Art, Ideas and the Creative Flow #95 #cong18


The creative process of idea generation involves hyper alertness, embracing fear and evolution.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas come from everyday observation
  2. Styles evolve
  3. Fear can be a blocker
  4. Trust your gut

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan is the centre director of IC4 – the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce.  Previously she was the CEO of the Irish Internet Association..

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can contact Joan on Twitter, on LinkedIn and via email.



By Joan Mulvihill

Kick starting #cong18 in Ashford Castle Joan discussed her discovery journey as an artist, how the creative process works, how ideas evolve and sharing your idea.

See Joan’s presentation below.

See Joan’s slides below.

Ode to a Cracked Pot Idea. #28 #cong18


Inspired by Keats who wrote the refined and beautiful “Ode to Grecian Urn”, I’ve called this blunt and less beautiful post “Ode to Cracked Pot (Idea)”.   Keats spoke of his urgent need to commit his ideas to paper before he died.   In this post I’ve tried to capture the limitations and frustrations through which ideas are stymied – ideas that aren’t realised because their originator has not the time, or the money, or the skills, or the confidence to take them forward.   In particular, I’ve focused on how confidence in our ideas can be quelled by over-zealous critique.  If we can think of sharing our ideas as sharing a talent/a gift then in return we stay open to receiving them with appreciation and kindness.   Also, the post questions the selfish motivations of keeping ideas to ourselves.  If we cannot realise our own ideas maybe we should just give them away to those who can even if it means we won’t get the recognition or reward for them ourselves.  Ideas only realise their potential when they are shared.


4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas are born from frustration but they can die by frustration too.  Frustrated by a lack of resources (time, skill, money, confidence) means an idea can remain unrealised.  If we do not have these resources ourselves should we not simply consider giving our ideas to those who do?
  2. Think of an idea as someone’s gift to you. Even if it is not the one you wanted, the originator of the idea has put thought and heart into it so we need to treat people’s ideas with greater appreciation and kindness.
  3. Beautiful ideas can last forever. They may not be appreciated at the time and the originator may never live to see their potential realised but that is no reason to keep them bottled up.   Be generous with your talents and share your ideas.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan is the centre director of IC4 – the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce.  Previously she was the CEO of the Irish Internet Association.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can contact Joan on Twitter, on LinkedIn and via email.

By Joan Mulvihill.

“Fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain” – Keats

That quote is scribbled on the cover of one of my teenage sketchpads.   If I hadn’t committed to writing it down maybe I’d have forgotten it by now but one way or another it’s lodged itself firmly in my brain.  I like the thought of Keats racing his pen along the page trying to keep pace with tumbling thoughts tripping out over ideas for fear that he might die before he had set them free.   Did he know at the time of its writing that he was to die young?

Keats died of tuberculosis at only 25 years of age, in 1821.   And here we are almost 200 years later and when asked to write about Ideas, it is my scribbled quote in 1990 that first came to mind – Keats’ urgency and determination to get his thoughts to paper, that they might find their way into the world and make it more beautiful.

Keats’ sense of urgency is spurred by his ill health and likely short life so while Ideas are often borne of frustrations they also die of frustrations, a lack of money, time, confidence, skills.  The realisation of our ideas is frustrated by each of these (and sometimes by all of these) limitations.   But, just because WE cannot do it, does this mean that we should keep the idea to ourselves?

When I have  a ‘great idea’ (for we all think our ideas are great in the moment of having them), I am excited.  In that moment, I have that satisfying feeling of being clever, of being creative and the idea is then elevated to ‘sheer genius’ by a heady shot of confidence.   I blurt it out, eagerly anticipating the audience gasping awe.  Except its not a gasp of awe at all.  It is that deep inhale before venting their  ‘constructive’ criticism so that in that moment they feel clever too. They have spotted the flaws, picked at the holes and shot me down.  Where to now?  Cowed to silence.   Fear of failure and foolishness dam my ideas with my teeming brain drowning in its own repressed flow.

Keats feared that he might cease to be.   Some fear being made look foolish, some fear theft of ideas and loss of recognition and reward.

And so I am brought to the Parable of the Talents.  The Master gave 5 talents to one of his servants, 3 talents to another and one talent to the final servant.   Years later on returning from his travels, the Master called to each of his servants and asked them what they had done with the talents they had been given.   The first two servants told the master how they had put their talents to use and in doing so had doubled their worth.  The final servant however told his master that he had been afraid of losing the talent so he had buried it deep in the ground to keep it safe.  The Master was angry with his ‘fearful and lazy servant’.     He had been given the talent to use, to make the world better, to make it more beautiful and instead he had kept it to himself and had not shared that gift with anyone.

The point is that our ideas are like our talents.  It is in sharing them that we increase their worth. Likewise, when someone shares something as special as their talent or their idea with us then should we not accept it with greater grace and appreciation? It may not be the perfect idea but to that person, in that moment, it is.  When someone shares their ideas with us maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to respond with our own ‘cleverness’ or worse grab to take it as our own.

Keats shared his ideas through poetry with generosity, courage and urgency in the face of death and has inspired my thoughts these 200 years later.  So long life to his beautiful ideas: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (the final lines from “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, Keats).