The fact that there is only 32 seats in the private cinema in Ashford Castle is the biggest weaknesses and strengths of the beginning event of CongRegation. The luxurious surroundings and the ‘pulmanesque’ seating allows for a level of intimacy that connects speakers and attendees closely but the night is always oversubscribed.
This year five speakers shared their unique stories of ideas in an evening which started with a prosecco reception in Ashford Castle’s Connaught Room.
Daphne McKinsey stared the evening with a presentation exploring fear and its impact on ideas noting that sometimes we need to completely step away from an idea before we can reassess and implement it. Generating something new challenges us and Daphne’s story behind the Sean Edwards Foundation deeply resonated with all. Daphne lost her son Sean in a tragic motor accident which inspired her to create a foundation that would improve driver safety in the motor racing sector. Daphne also shared the plans for a new communications and collaboration platform that could revolutionise driver to spectator the safety with enhanced first responder and incident data.
Peppered with a lifetime of tips and stories of products he developed David Gluckman shared insights on what inspired new gins, vodkas and wines. Contrary to a systems led world he suggested that ‘sometimes it helps to take something right to the wire. The cold sweat of panic can concentrate the mind wonderfully.” The search for ideas is a 168 hour a week undertaking he also noted. “Wherever you look, you can find something. Just keep looking” said David describing how he has found inspiration from ordinary things like a crossword puzzle. He also told attendees to look at the information you already have rather than continually looking for new data. David also revealed that for him the process of ideation it was “never a team game’. Acknowledging the role of buyers of ideas he advocated the need to learn how to buy as well as sell ideas. David finished up with a final piece of advice for all to implement the morning after test on ideas – what seems like an inspired concept might not seem like such a good idea the next day.
Speaking without slides but based on a lifetime of stories from working in the media Valerie Cox shared how headline grabbing stories come about. By pulling bags of rubbish out of ditches around the country, searching for clue of ownership she tracked down dumpers to interview them for ‘Ditch Watch’. Over 5 years this caught nationwide appeal and radically changed behaviour. Aligned to this she also narrated uncovering a series of illegal dumps based upon following up on rumours that led to high court actions. She also spoke about gate crashing wedding for scoops to following numerous lines of query to gather enough information to make a story worth while. Valerie also shared how the media worked to extremely tight deadlines that forces journalist to rapidly work contacts, gather information, turn them into a coherent narrative and make them readable. The life of a journalist is not for everyone with its multiple rejections and sometime dangerous reactions. One of Valerie’s final stories was on revealing the practices of Irish psychics that prayed upon people vulnerabilities after weeks of recording interviews.
Lee Tunney Ware in his presentation on ‘New Mindsets = New results’ used a series of audience participations that had everyone on their feet to demonstrate the connection between know and believing. ‘We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are’ he said acknowledging the role of belief over perception. He brought the exercise home to attendees by asking them to see how many ‘F’s they saw in a sentence. Most missed a couple of them demonstrating that the mind does not always see everything. Lee maintains that beliefs are the barrier to truth and are only summary commands. He finished up telling the audience that ‘your limits only exist in the mindset that created them’ and encouraged everyone to take a new and open view on what they could achieve.
The evening finished with Joan Mulvihill narrating her new journey as an artist. Joan was better know to the attendees as the CEO of the Irish Internet Association and more recently as centre director of IC4. With only 24 hours to prepare for the presentation she also discussed the role of ‘fear’ and ‘acceptance’ of exposing new ideas. Illustrating the progression of her paint from photo realistic to more emotion fueled impression she articulated the movement from ‘Someone who can but someone who doesn’t…..’ to ‘Someone who can and someone who does…’ She also questioned who decides if someone is or isn’t something. When is someone a Musician, author, Poet, Comedian, an Entrepreneur or in her situation an Artist?
Is it defined by the ‘effort’ or the ‘output’? The reaction by the attendees to her work answered some of this but people willing to buy her work was perhaps a better indicator.
She also spoke about embracing how some people will hate her work and the honest feedback this provides. She finished by talking about the difficultly of giving something away that she has created, although financial payment helps.
Following the evening in Ashford Castle the group retired to Danagher pub where Mags Almond, Richard Millwood, Chris Reina and Stephen Howell brought the group through making simple electrical circuits and explaining the role and function of diodes, conductors, semi-conductors. By using the now infamous fluffy chicken Pieu Pieu showed how our bodies can act as conductors followed by hands on making of glowies. In the course of 20 minutes the impact on sparking curiosity, understanding and questioning was clear to the attendees and even clear how this can be transformation for children. Deep electronics concepts through fun and experience.
Almost 100 submissions were published this year in the run up to #cong18 on Nov 24th under the meta theme of ‘Ideas’ and due to the diversity of insights grouping them into common sub theme is a challenge. Some submissions were specific from tips on remembering ideas to more psychology led analysis of what constitutes an idea. Attendees were given a blank canvas on which to map out their unique perspective which was a difficult task as it involved distilling and focusing their thoughts on a broad and complex area. Many people reported spending long journeys pondering their thoughts before committing to paper. The process of writing these thoughts down takes discipline but also deeply embeds the learning.
Grouping submissions in to common sub themes is also a very subjective process especially as many submissions cover multi arenas in a short space but they loosely gravitate and cluster around the following areas:
Ideation: Process/joy of coming of up with ideas
Implementation: The difficulty of ideas and what happens next
Psychology: Insights in to the thought process and what ideas actually are
Business: The commercial perspective of ideas from patents to copyrights
Society: The impact of ideas on how we live and our survival
Education: Learning from children to reimagining the education system
Dealing with the tricky arena of AI and Ideas Victor Del Rosal gives a pragmatic view in The future of innovative ideas where he sums up as “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?”
Jeffrey Gormly delivered some insights by an artist for unfolding the creative process from finding a rhythm, making space using intuition in Creativity wants to flow
In an era of google and AI Cyril Moloney points out that ideas will be a precious commodity that we need to invest in now to avoid disruption along with where ideas come from in Is it time to Brainstorm with Google?
Through a video submission and a selection of Ideas quotes Paul O’Mahony in I have no idea looks at how ideas happen reminding us that before our idea were our feelings.
Shirley Coyle questions if school is killing creativity and recommends making learning fun and encourage curiosity in Ideas – Nurturing Creativity
Zanya Dahl believes that the greater the mind’s exposure to experiences and different sources of knowledge, the more opportunity for interesting connections to form and the greater the propensity of ideas in No idea is a bad idea
You don’t have to be an ideas person but find others who bring out your creativity is the message from Pamela O’Brien in Ideas and where to find them
Emphasing the importance of ideas Tom Murphy advocates that if we didn’t have good ideas we would have been done away by evolution in Evolving Ideas.
Maryrose Lyons proposes that Average people talk about people, great people talk about people’s ideas but extraordinary people talk about ideas in Average? Great? Or Extraordinary?
Revealing how he blends old school writing ideas in moleskins before calling them out and using voice transcription and AI for surfacing the best ideas Bernie Goldback also proposes sharing your ideas through immersive experiences in While Talking to Myself in My Attic.
Listening to those reoccurring ideas is important – they push you to do things outside your comfort zone and drive you to do things you wouldn’t normally do. Unshakable ideas happen for a reason and are a sign you need to act on them says John Reilly in Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
Using a poetic form, Alan Tyrrell narrates that ideation is not easy but that’s what makes ideation so addictive and that they need harsh treatment as well as support in Ideas have legs….an ode to Cong
Gar Mac Críosta in a poem tells us that in ideation we should looks for the gaps, explore the edges, explore and share in Disciples of Curiosity
John Tierney shares his experience of ideation noting that sustainable idea development needs funding and a team in What Is.
In I Have a Cunning Plan Niall McCormack digs into his life time experiences and advises asking for feedback and to keep learning which he cements in quoting the proverb ‘When arguing with a fool, first make sure that the other person isn’t doing the exact same thing.’
Barry Murphy presents another contrarian view that Ideas are over-rated, perhaps at the cost of those who actually go ahead and do stuff in Nappies and Lobster Pots
Harnessing his experience of moving ideas forward Brendan Hughes in Another Great Idea! What Next? recommends checking that your idea is better, easier, faster or cheaper for people, using the data that is available (no need to be the expert), creating prototyes and surrounding yourself with ambitious problem-solvers
Getting team buy-in, timing, testing, prototyping, evaluation, end-user validation and at the very minimum an objective, critical discussion with the right people are all critical factors in enabling ideas to move forward according to Anne Wilson in What is a Good Idea?
Using the learning of hackathons Stephen Howell explains that teams and execution trumps ideas alone in Idea or Execution
Sharing the experiences of implementing the ideas from Scaling Up by Verne Harnish John Horkan tells us how his company has made ideas become reality in Ideas are not Enough!
Emphasing the pressure and lack of resources Helena Deane tells us that difficult situations test our tenacity and make for better problem-solution analysis in Necessity is the Mother.
Using his own recent experience in his business Paul Killoran explains that when the stakes are high, implementing ideas can be difficult and your gut instinct can count for a lot in Ideas of Burst No Pressure.
Asking and answering the hard questions of Where does the word idea come from? What does the word idea mean? What does it mean to have an idea? Anne Tannam in Fresh into Ideas covers deep thought processes.
With deep insight psychometric testing Celia Keenaghan in Imagining Ideas and Finding Flow guides us to that finding your flow is finding your path of least resistance and your path to greatest impact.
Using the theory of Charles Horton Cooley and the concept of the Looking Glass Self Jane Leonard explains how your idea of who you are is not just a biological state but is the result of our interactions with others in The Idea of You and Me.
We need to connect to and express our emotions to change the limits of our language and our world and challenge specific ideas of manhood which distorts and limits our ability to act in the world says Dermot Casey in a second #cong18 submission in Killing John Wayne.
In My Business Partner Is 57 and doesn’t understand me Seanie Walsh suggests that the power of ideas, is not in what you say but what you’re listening to before revealing that validating his thoughts through an adult in the room taught him that there was as much value in mapping trajectory to discovering an idea was totally useless and moving on.
Ginger Aarons shares her 20 years of developing ideas in the tourism industry and investigates what happens when you’re idea is no longer THE ‘new idea’ in It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Using the story of legendary Norwegian artic explorer, Fritjof Nansen Morgan McKeagney explains that the value of an idea is the action and the stories it inspires and that few ideas survive their impact with the world intact; and once they get into the wild, that’s when the fun begins in Into the Wild: Adventures beyond Ideas
Using the story of the electric car Billy Kennedy narrates the negative role of big business in Why Good Ideas Die
Brian MacIntyre shares a lifetime in the media and the symbiotic relationship between Stories and ideas in The Story Behind Big Ideas advising that if you’re looking for that next big idea, figure out what the world needs fixing.
Ideas are being stifled by the straitjacket of consumerism and the market and as a result, really big ideas are in short supply suggest Billy MacInnes in Where’s the big idea?
Rural Communities need a vision that’s strongly held says Tracy Keogh in Spreading Ideas where she articulates the impact that remote working could have.
Without ideas, we have nothing maintains Padraig McKeon in Ideas – the building blocks of civilisation where he also shares that the formation of ideas can’t be stopped and they support people, organisations and governments, formally and informally
Mary Carty asks what would possibilities could we create if we revaluated old ideas and broke away from old frameworks in Ideas that Bind. What possibilities could we create?
In Dear Fellow Inmates Caoimhe O’Rourke uses a poem to share new ideas on openness and dialogue on mental health.
In Opening the door to creativity Eva Action ask how does our education system fosters ideas encouraging the breaking of the mould, tapping into talent and learning to fail again/fail better.
CongRegation has morphed and grown since the first incarnation experiment in 2013 although the fundamental structure of what makes it special has remained the same.
One of the key things that changes annually has been the theme and interestingly the original theme of ‘Social Media’ still features strongly in some people’s perception of the event. Let me take you through the evolution to this years theme.
The first year focused on social media which as a sector was still evolving and needed lots of discussion and guidance. We gave options to people about submissions ranging from Case Study, Tips, How to Guide through to a what was called a ‘Rant’ (positive or negative perspective on the topic). Most submissions took the form of a leadership type piece essentially a smart positive rant, where opinions were given space to be elaborated, dissected, reassembled and made ready for discussion. It was clear that this was the type of contribution and form that people were naturally more attracted to but is the most difficult of all the options. It takes time to narrow down the vast choices, percolate the ideas, build a reasonable case, research, compose, edit, test, rethink and finally submit.
This single choice of submission was carried into year 2 but the theme broaden out a bit to include digital media, partially as a reaction to the broader nature of year one submissions. Rather than just document work done, attendees wished to dig deeper and ponder the topic at a more challenging level, rather than just deliver a blog post that could have featured on a regular social media blog. This was the what I saw as the emergence of what I called the ‘Mental Itch’. We are surrounded by all the theme areas but we rarely really question them or construct our thoughts into a robust argument or stance. In a world of twitter, microcontent and limited attention span long form content forces us to consider things with a bit more depth, sometimes to quite personal self reflective areas. We are also all incredibly busy and possibly don’t reward ourselves with higher debate and thinking when stuck in the now.
Year 3 became a bit more challenge focused with the theme exploring the impact of technology on work and personal lives. This evolved from conversations at year two as personal impacts were questioned. As the diversity of attendees expanded and as the curious nature of attendees grew there was a collective desire to look at something bigger and tap into the collective mindsets. If my observation from year two was around the general willingness to tested (submission and conversations on the day) year 3 taught me that the more meaningful content frequently involved peeling back layers of the onion to really see what, who was ticking. This happens naturally during the day in Cong but year 3 contributions contained not just smart insights but also deeper personal perspective.
Year 4 ‘The Future’ emerged as a natural extension of the Year 3 theme of the impact of technology on our lives. Technology has a role but it’s not the only player in town and year three surfaced a lot of fears and reservations that people had about the future direction we were heading. An attempt to capture on the day insights in the form of an open challenge to create a better future was also attempted but these themes are so big, multi faceted and broad that consensus is almost impossible to achieve. In fact, we could not even reach consensus on who should get the award for best contribution (the crystal ball is still sitting in my office). Addressing the final challenge on the day of producing ideas on what would make a better future proved difficult as the more views on the future that emerged the more questions that accompanied it.
The ‘Innovation’ theme of year 5 reflected the emergence of ‘meta themes’ and could be viewed as an additional component of the convergence between technology and future. This allowed the flexibility to explore experiences, expertise and scratching of the mental ‘itch’ – something that was always nagging you at the back of your mind that you wished to explore more deeply. The compliance aspect of the submission (ie cannot get a ticket without it) was replaced by sometime cathartic release of energy and focus on a blank canvas topic. CongRegation creates a peer based, trusted environment to explore areas and it was heartening to hear challenges to conventional wisdom and counter intuitive approaches. As the attendee profile also broadened so did the entry point and background perspectives. The range of angles, perspectives, commentary, guidance and strong opinions reinforced my own internal view that everyone has a piece of the jigsaw puzzle and no one has all the pieces.
Last years theme of ‘Ideas’ proved difficult for people as not alone do we rarely think about ideas in an external inquiring stance but we generally live in the moment of having an idea and the problems it poses. Ideas is related to the Innovation theme but interestingly many felt that Innovation had become abused as a concept due to over use – words matter. Similar to innovation, executing on an idea was a key exploration thread. In normal life this theme gets superficial treatment and is often interwoven into bigger fabrics. David Gluckman’s presentation in Ashford Castle and his comments about Ideas alerted me to this rich vein – if we just viewed it differently and pondered it more deeply. Rather than a collection of idea pitches the submissions contained a mix of well thought out reflections and probings.
Informally the theme has come out of conversations after each CongRegation and this year was no different involving late night (strike while the iron is hot) chats in Danaghers after the huddles and ukulele session finished. Four key suggestions emerged:
Fear: this popped up in a lot of huddles, would connect in a very deep way but also risked becoming very personality focused.
Imperfection: This was viewed both as perfection and imperfection and could produce fascinating divergent views
Transition: This originated from a conversation where it was felt a lot of people at CongRegation has experienced change or were undergoing deep self reflection (career, life).
Community: In its seventh year is CongRegation becoming a community that takes place in a rural community.
The date and theme were put out as a Twitter poll (not the most scientific way but I wanted to make it a bit more objective) and Community was the clear winner.
Over the last year I have had many conversations with Tracy Keogh about community from a business perspective from how do you define it, to the different perspectives to the joys and problems of working with communities. I have lived in rural and city communities, in communities in different culture China, Spain, Canada. I worked with different work communities and communities of practice. I have watched online communities grow from the early email lists and the fascinating worlds that evolved and have become the tail wagging the dog. I live in a rural community but see multiple levels, complications, fantastic endeavors, open mindedness, closed mindness to completely unconnected groups. Everywhere I look I see tribes, formal/informal groups of people and witness the same people behaving in completely different way. Community surrounds us, united us, it drives and moulds us and we rarely question it deeply. My curiosity is only now starting and I like all the contributors have permission to think, reflect, express and share our insights.
Only starting also is the awareness of how much I have to learn about this arena. Since agreeing the theme I have had fascinating conversations with sociologists about community and place, the evolution of communities through migration and the view/power of filtered, collated research to explain what I see daily but do not necessarily understand. As per Joan Mulvihills comments I have become hyper alert to community related topics to the point of having email conversations with a poet who featured on RTE Sunday Miscellany, straight after the show as he had a unique perspective on a community where I lived. Coffee time discussions have uncovered doctorates who have tried to implement industrial standard on to a rural community to try improve the community. Psychologist friends fascinate me on the way the thread multiple theories and thinking into explain how and why we operate in groups and communities.
Personally I am really excited about this theme, I am looking forward to being challenged, reflecting, researching , wondering, writing, scrapping, sharing, testing and I hope, like all the contributors, that this process along will enrich me a little bit more.