Communication Digital Transformation News and Events Painless Change People strategy Uncategorized

Thriving in turbulent (Digital) times

These are a few of the slogans flowing around Digital and Business Transformation and my reply in brackets.

Digital is eating the world (Yes)

The World is being disrupted (So what?)

The future is too hard to predict (Not really)

The overspill of digital technology is impacting every business. Scare stories abound and they don’t offer much of a solution.

The reality is the internet has changed how you do your job. And it is going to continue to change how you do your job.

If you don’t change someone who will change will put you out of business, or make your organisation seem too inefficient by comparison. Copying the work of the kid at the next desk doesn’t work.

Learning together, open conversation and preparing and adapting to change does work.

It is not the strongest businesses, nor the smartest, nor the one with the most money (though that helps) that succeeds. It is the ones that adapt to change fast enough.

We’re running a workshop on this topic in a few weeks. If you’re interested in this you can find out more here.

Digital Transformation News and Events Painless Change People Technology Uncategorized

Digital Age Orientation Day

If you have two and a half minutes take a look at the video below on Bronze Age Orientation day. It’s short, it’s funny and it’s true.

It underlines that the concept of change is not unique to the our digital age. No Company ever likes to transform itself (if the caterpillar had a choice, would it become a butterfly?) but in most cases they have learned to accept the fact that they have to.

Companies have been dealing with mergers, acquisitions, buyouts, restructuring, de-localisations, re-localisations for a long time. If you’ve been through it you’ll know this sort of radical transformation is slow and painful: the all-or-nothing approach forcefully pushed by many consultants is not popular and also falls flat a lot of the time. The Digital Age is here. It’s been coming for twenty years and to succeed in this environment every business needs to be a Digital Business.

We’ll be running a daylong course at the end of the month on Digital Change and how to manage it in your organisation. Our approach is gradual, offers numerous intermediate steps, defines clear deliverables and measurements and ties companies to their specific context. It’s Digital Transformation tempered by Change Management methods and experience

You can find out more here

Candid Communication News and Events People Uncategorized

Candid: Mary Carty From Curiosity to Creativity

This was the fourth in our series of #Candid talks with the wonderful Mary Carty on the 22nd of October. Rowan Manahan who was in the audience kindly did this guest post for us.

The Craft of Creation – Mary Carty

A #Candid talk on by the ever-candid, crafty and bogglingly creative Mary Carty quickly evolved into a high-energy dialogue about curiosity. Mary pivoted the talk early onto that subject and immediately challenged the room to think about genuine curiosity and to ask ourselves why aren’t certain questions being asked in our world.

She shared with us the question that she and Anne-Marie Imafidon asked themselves last year – “Why are there so few women in tech?” More importantly, they asked themselves, “What are we going to do about it?”

And thus Outbox Incubator was born. That story of 115 young double-X chromosome geniuses coming through one big house in London is familiar enough to those who followed the rise of the Outbox Executives last summer. Mary took us behind the scenes into the world of “Fun. Free. Food” – which were the pillars on which Outbox was built.

Suffice to say to ensure the smooth running of any future enterprise involving young women from the ages of 11 to 22, always ensure that there is a quiet, get-away-from-it-all staircase and a bounteous stash of hot chocolate and Mars Bars.

Some of Mary’s other notable questions:

“Have you ever seen a panel of VCs all smiling, all at once, all day?”

“Why don’t we push against or find answers to the known unknowns?”

“Why don’t you give yourself permission to be curious, really curious?”

Take it from a woman who has created some pretty cool stuff – we can create what we want to create, we just have to make the choice to be curious enough to start …

Thanks to Rowan for his take on Mary’s event, it was really powerful.

Rowan is our next guest in this Candid series and he is with us on 10th December to lead a discussion on the Heart and Art of Public Speaking – info and tickets here.


News and Events People Uncategorized

Yes to equality.

On Friday the Near Future principals Keith and Dermot will be voting yes to equality and we’re encouraging everyone do do the same.

We believe this is a matter of human rights, and that it should be the case that”“Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

It is a simple as that.

The Irish Times summed it up well when saying

We devalue many lives by confining them to second class status. We tell children of “irregular unions” they are worth less, and young people struggling with sexual identity that some choices are less valid, trapping many in secret, painful worlds of denial. We tell couples their commitment to each other can never be as deep or valid as the relationships their brothers, sisters, or parents have been committed to. And that the State will not offer them the same protection, the same honour.

That is not who we are as a people. We are generous and open, inclusive and non-judgmental. And we are committed to strengthening the institution of marriage. That is why we will vote Yes.


conference People personal

A sense of #Úllconf

I have copious notes to write up on Ùll. Pages and pages. Eventually

The images below are a sensory fragments of a  “A family wedding without the family rows.”

It is to paraphrase someone in the corridor “Enough technology to qualify as a business event, but to call it a technology event undersells the scale of what it does”.

And yes. The 5K was completed (evidence below).
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People personal

Apples and Energy. Motivation and the Úll 5K.

Its not often that you can say a conference helped change your life. Especially a technology conference with no mind or body changing gurus in sight. Úll was that conference for me. So when Dermot Daly (the other Dermot) asked me to write a blog post for Úll about running a 5K for at last year’s conference I was only happy to write. He also mentioned the theme of this year’s conference is around the subject of motivation. The piece below is thoughts on motivation, running the 5K and Úll itself. Turns out this wasn’t quite what I started out to write.

After two years of not going to Úll (and regretting it) last year I decided to go. At some point probably early in March I got an email saying that they were going to run a charity 5K at Úll. I was badly out of condition and badly overweight at the time, and hadn’t done any jogging, cycling, or proper exercise in quite a while.

The initial thoughts were a mix of “bugger I’ll look silly if I don’t do it” and “If Dermot and Sasha are doing it sure I’d better give it a try” combined with “well it is for charity”. There were about 5 weeks to Úll when I started training. I downloaded a couple of Couch to 5K apps, picked one of them and started the program a couple of days later. After a couple of weeks, I bought a new pair of runners. By the time I got to Úll last year I was up to about 3K and was about 4 to 5 weeks into my 9 week program. The morning of the run, I turned up in the lobby of the hotel somehow expecting most of the people at the conference, a little over 200 people, to be there. It was probably in the region of 30 people who turned up.

With 30 others I went out to do the circuit on the beautiful grounds of Lyrath House Hotel. I jogged about 3 of the 5K and walked the other 2K. I may have taken at least one wrong turn on the way and I definitely finished last. Despite
that, I was glad I did it. If nothing else I finished it. What happened next is the interesting part. I kept jogging after Úll.

At that stage, I had about 5 weeks of exercise and I was starting to lose weight. In conjunction with the couch to 5K I started modifying my diet. The starting point for that was the very scientific “stop eating so much crap”. Over the course of the next couple of months, between April of 2014 and December 2014 I lost 3 stone,and managed to run 5K on a regular basis. The two images below sum up what happened over those few months.
Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 19.36.52            dermot_600_x_800-copy

I did a Phoenix Park “Run with Ray” and a “Run in the Dark 5K”. And at this point I enjoy it. I’ve thought a lot over the past few days about the question of the motivation. The motivation initially was not wanting to be embarrassed. (At least that’s what I told myself). Recently Stewart Butterfield the founder of the
messaging app Slack said he didn’t know why Slack had taken off while his last two startups had fizzled.“ I have no fucking idea” was the exact quote. Thinking about my motivation I realised that really I hadn’t really thought or understood my own motivation very well.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it. In the end I think it comes down to three things. It’s a combination of curiosity,energy and opportunity. And I believe a lot of motivation works this way. I read a very interesting book on Willpower a year or so ago. There may have been a dubious assumption that hey if I read a book on Willpower maybe it’ll improve my Willpower but some of the messages did seep in. One key message at the center of that book was that Willpower is related to energy.

Make too many decisions during a day and the quality of decisions you make and your ability to make decisions falls. People talk about grit very often, about digging deep in motivating yourself to do anything. I think the vast body of evidence show that this is victorian nonsense. The idea of will and energy are more important. Mentally last year I had the energy and the space to start an exercise program. For too many years I didn’t. Or to be honest I had prioritised
others things to a point where I hadn’t given myself the space or the energy to

When I left my previous role in a startup called Storyful at the end of 2012 I was overweight (see photo above and note the before photo is me after I lost one stone). A decade of young kids capped with 3 years of a startup had left me more than a bit out of shape. A very smart friend of mine told me it’d take 6-12 months to recover after Storyful. I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time. In retrospect it’s energy he’s talking about. You have a finite amount and when you burn the candle at both ends and in the middle for too long you use that energy up. And create a rather large debt that needs to be paid off.

You have the basic energy for most things but the energy required to exercise and lose weight takes a while to come back. Time heals. If we let it. Having the energy isn’t enough though. For me Úll brought the curiosity and the opportunity at a time when I had the energy. “What would it be like to do this?” “Would apps on the phone help?” Curiosity, energy and opportunity intersected together.

I think curiosity is linked to energy too. If you’ve ever been really sick in bed and too ill to read all those books you’ve been stockpiling you’ll understand what I mean. I also think curiosity is the most human traits and I don’t think that we can be motivated without curiosity. (Its why the only good form of motivation is intrinsic and why extrinsic motivation never really works).

That has implications for schools and work and product development as well as running the 5K. I attempted to lose weight any number of times over the last decade. All attempts unsuccessful. And I tried all sorts of things to motivate myself. When I look at it now some of the elements were missing at any point in the past. Now I’m aware of what I need to exercise and to lose weight. And its not apps. Apps help. Spotify playlists and multiple running apps accompany me on my runs.

And the idea that what we need to get fit and healthy are apps is a naive idea. It’s a Silicon Valley solution to a different problem (there are a lot of those where we use technology to solve symptoms rather than root causes). At this point I’m reasonably comfortably doing 5 or 6K a few times a week. It’s now gotten to the point where I will change my routine to fit in getting in a 5K.

During the summer, the long evenings, running at 6, 7, even 8:00 in the evening was fine. It’s harder in winter. Days when there is too much going on are harder to run than days when work is at an even tempo. I’ve learned to manage my energy better. A poor nights sleep the night before and it not so much there is no motivation to run (there isn’t) but that there’s no energy to run. Sometimes all you need to do is grind out the run. Flat and all as it might be sometimes the goal is like the 5K in Úll, just finishing the damn thing.

Finding the space to run creates more energy and headspace to do other things better. Now I knew that but somehow forgot it along the way. I still have weight to lose, but I’ve made a good start and I feel an awful lot better for it in very very many ways.

A brief p.s. There’s lots more here that I want to explore but by those curious and lovely co-incidences the Internet often throws up over the last two days I came across two posts that tie to these themes.  Steve Wheelers on Curiosity making us who we are is very good on education. And Chris Bailey summary of a Year of Productivity experiments makes a very similar point on Energy.

Header image is Apples by  José Pestana on Flickr. Shared via a Creative Commons License.

People Social Media Technology

Our dopamine driven present

Hans de Zwart has written a piece on how Al Wei Wei the Chinese artist is living in all our futures. The whole thing is well worth a read. There is a lot to unpack in it. The paragraph that points to the New Intermediaries (Google, Facebook, Netflix) that sit between us and everything else is worth a book on its own. As is Disney normalising surveillance and quantified self technology through MagicBands.

I was once asked to help someone start a business that put trackers on kids.  I found it deeply creepy and still do. Though as a parent of kids a little piece at the back of your mind is going. “Well it’d be nice to be sure”. Which is why these things will probably sell despite them being creepy. The end of the piece points out another problem with constant monitoring

We need failure to be able to learn, we need inefficiency to be able to recover from mistakes, we have to take risks to make progress and so it is imperative to find a way to celebrate imperfection.

The bit that really resonated with me was on Casinos and Natasha Dow Schüll and her book  ‘Addiction by Design’.

In it, she clearly shows how the slot machine industry has designed the complete process (the casinos, the machines themselves, the odds, etc.) to get people as quickly as possible into ‘the zone’. The player is seen as an ‘asset’ for which the ‘time on device’ has to be as long as possible, so that the ‘player productivity’ is as high as possible.

The comments on the use of defibrillators in Casinos is especially disturbing. The logical jump made is that

Facebook is very much like a virtual casino abusing the same cognitive weaknesses as the real casinos.

And as Hugh MacLeod pointed out

Of course the pointless babble and the social grooming may be the very point of social media (the clue is in the name).

Steffen Banhardt on Flickr. Licensed  via Creative Commons

People politics strategy Technology

#RebootingIreland 2000AD, Metaphors and Messy problems

Lucinda Creighton has launched a new political party.  Or launched a #hashtag. I’m not quite sure which.

As I tweeted yesterday

“First thought on When rebooting a computer you don’t get a different operating system”

There was a lot of comment on Twitter. Dave Winer said recently Twitter can have a tendency towards “high fructose emotional rage medicine.” Mostly the comment was cynical rather than hate filled.

My first thought was of a comic. There is a panel somewhere in my mothers attic from an episode of 2000AD. It’s from the story Strontium Dog. The storyline is set at the end of a war. A military police force is being disbanded and being replaced. Panel one has the old police force. And panel two has the new police force. Same group. Different uniforms. Same system. Plus ca change.

I was reminded of that panel when thinking about #RebootIreland. When we exchanged Fianna Fail for Fine Gael and Labour a few years ago that was the transition. Mostly because the state was governed by the Troika and administered by the politicians we elected. I’m not sure that what’s intended here will be any different.

I took a look at the #RebootIreland website. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. As Tommy Collison commented

I have equal questions of what some of the other statements mean

Fostering a spirit of entrepreneurism in our public sector that will reward those who work the hardest and deliver the best results for our public services.

I’m not sure that lack of entrepreneurism is the problem with the public sector (Too few entrepreneurial teachers and nurses?). And performance management mechanisms lead to dysfunctional behaviour.  There are no doubt reforms that need to be made. It would be an idea to start with an understanding of the problem than a statement of the solution. (If your solution is a hammer, the problem will inevitably be defined in terms of nails).

So what is #RebootIreland ? Is it a statement of intent? Is it an idea? It it a marketing slogan?  Right now I’m not sure. I don’t know what its stands for or what it wants to achieve beyond some a choices of metaphor. Metaphors and symbols matter.  What does #RebootIreland mean?

The metaphor suggests a quick clean out of the system and things can continue as they do before. One other comment on twitter was “sometimes rebooting the computer clears out the rubbish that’s stopping it going forward”.  Perhaps and I don’t think so. Computer analogies and metaphors are too reductive. It continues a trend in human thinking and it doesn’t really get us anywhere.  Reductive models lead us to nonsense like the Singularity.  And one of the tweets that went around last night was the “computer says no” from Little Britain. (Which shows that you can create a hashtag but you can’t control it).   I wonder if the party without a name or policy or candidates is attempting to do some sort of Lean Political Startup? In a comment on inappropriate language and contextless shifting of ideas Dave Snowden recently noted 

Shifting partial understanding of success from one context to a completely different one as a populist recipe is of course no new thing. Neither is wrapping it up in partially understood and inappropriate language.

It would be easy to mock and its important to ask questions.  Maybe #RebootIreland is taking Francis Bacon’s view

If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties

I’m reading a history of the American Revolution at the moment.  The revolution itself and many of the leading revolutionaries were quite conservative. The human frailty, stupidity, venality and conniving on every side is the most illuminating and insightful part of a great narrative.  It was very messy. Any change in Irish politics is likely to be messy.  Can we have messy around issues of substance though?  That’d make a nice change in Irish politics.


* image is Johnny Alpha wall paper from the 2000AD website

conference People

#Cong14 Thoughts and Reflections (Or Everything you wanted to know about Congregation but were afraid to ask)

My mind is still buzzing from #Cong14. More ideas per square minute than most events would have in a week.

It was a day and more of conversation and serendipity. People I’ve known online and off. Some of the connections have deep roots. Sean McGrath who’s blog I first paid attention to over a decade ago, but had never met and Bernie Goldbach who I first met when the crackle of dial up modems was how I got online.

Initial plans to drive down to Galway on Friday morning were changed by Client meetings. There was a pitstop in Galway and the needful pilgrimage to Charlie Byrnes before a final fogbound trip out to Cong in the dark.  I met  Rurai Kavanagh  Gianno Catalfamo and the man behind Congregation Eoin Kennedy for a quick drink, and a brief tour of Cong. Later that evening I chatted with Fiona Ash and Amanda Webb with a roaring fire, the Late Late Toy Show and conversation flowing.

Saturday was #Cong14 proper.  50 plus people registered in Ryans and were assigned to huddles for the the day.  This was where the key problem of Congregation presented itself. Too much good stuff across and too many good people. As chance would have it I spent three of my four huddles in ‘The Quite Cailin’.

Each of the huddles needs a post in itself. The idea was that over an hour two people would present their papers and the group would discuss in an open unconference type format. Our first huddle started with Maryrose Lyons talk “We need to talk about porn” and that is all we did for for the next hour. To the extent we hijacked the idea of a second talk and kept the discussion going.  Maryrose’s paper and talk gave me a lot of material to think about. She’s blogged a followup post about it

Things I learned in that first session include

  • Kids now first seeing porn at 11/12 v’s 17/18 20 yrs ago “like leaving a bag of heroin around the house and not talking about it”
  • Doctors treating erectile dysfunction used mostly treat men in their 40’s. Now treating more 18 year olds than 40 year olds
  • Porn is a neural and a cultural issue not a moral issue
  • Historical repressive Irish culture and not talking about sex meets 21st century technology is a danger
  • There are obvious links to online misogyny and abuse of women that comes with porn culture
  • Two studies in UK in 2011 and 2013 on “the sexualisation of culture” because of the concern over it
  • Snapchat and other things making porn a paying mechanism for 3rd level students

The thought that jumped into my head is – is porn and boys a parallel with girls and fashion and body image?  As someone else pointed out in both cases “it fucks with their heads”

There was a lot of deep ideas and sharing that came from everyone in the group on this topic. The only problem and it was the general problem of the day is that we didn’t get to talk about more of the topics.

My second huddle of the day was back in the Quite Cailin and summed up in this photo

  In our second talk Sean McGrath told us that the Cloud was a terrible thing to waste on content.

Starting with the idea that How do we get rid of the divide between business people and IT people those who can program? and expanding on the notion that at one level. Since Algol in 1960 everything in Computers in syntactic sugar. How do we reframe things to let billions participate ? Sean went on to point out that Excel was in many ways one thing that went beyond syntactic sugar and put power in peoples rather than programmers hands.

I learned of the phrase of a “Personal Event Network” and was reminded of Zapier and If This Then That in the description of “I want to be able to draw it and then run it, most solutions to the problem are attacking it the wrong way”

The core notion of if then else… and iteration are all computers need (for Turing complete programming environment) echoed this idea.  Its not to get rid of computer programming. Its to supplement it.

The thoughts went deep. And the question of serendipity came up as Sean’s learning of Python came due to a book being misfiled and a Barney doll. Something Bernie has expanded on.

Jazz, failed artists and Frank Herbert “you cannot understand a system by stopping it” were thoughts around the conversation.  I like the idea that we shouldn’t  stop systems to understand them, but rather we need to slow them down to look at them.

The second part of this session was the least well formed of the day. It was my own. My post was a rough draft and its only after the morning sessions and conversation I figured out what I was trying to say.  How can the digital and the social help the analog the the personal and the societal.  As Joe Kearns  deftly pointed out, with every technology we lose something but we should be gaining more than we lose.

Congregation itself is an example of where technology is linking people together in deeper and more important ways.

We had an interesting chat with Michelle of The Quite Cailin just before lunch. The Shop has a fair amount of technology powered from a Raspberry Pi and is looking to be self sustaining in electricity through the use of Solar Panels.

It’s a beautiful space.

Lunch was in Puddleducks Cafe where I learned a lot by listening to Robbie who chaired our morning huddles.  Little connections played back together with a project he’s working on at the moment in my home town.  Our third session of the day had me back in The Quite Cailin. I debated a particular painting when Michelle commented “Art, if its meant for you it’ll find you”.

We talked about the nature of value in the afternoon with Paul Killoran t starting from the concept of Aristotles 4 characteristics of Currency, (that it should be Durable, Divisible, Portable, and have Intrinsic Value). Paper money and breaking gold standard took us away from that intrinsic value. Bitcoin takes us another step away from that concept and Paul tore up a €5 note to demonstrate that the value of money is in our heads.  Money is the worlds largest religion. Its a belief system.  We examined questions of what has intrinsic value with one idea being the only thing that has intrinsic value has time. And we often lose focus on that when we focus too much on money.  Kingsley Aikens made some important points on inherited wealth and talked about  “the lucky sperm club” the heirs that will inherit 30 trillion in the US over next 30 years. 

There was a recommendation for the book “You are not so smart” by David McRaney on human cognitive biases and a very interesting comment from Gianni Catalfamo on the implications of Gödels incompleteness theorem for Bitcoin. That was one of the most intriguing question in a day of intriguing questions. 

The final huddle of the day was in the Rare and Recent Bookshop.  There was no obvious wifi code so I presumed there was none. (The owner later told me that no one had asked him for it.) So for the final huddle of the day I took some notes on the laptop.  Many topics came up. The question of Porn and online behaviour was discussed again as was the dangers in how teenagers can deal with suicidal ideation online. We talked about getting Irish businesses online. 47,000 of them have no online presence.  There is a need to break down barriers. And a large economic imperative with a lot of money leaving the country to companies in the UK. Averil Staunton of Historical Ballinrobe took us through that initiative and we learned of the challenges for technology in rural areas.  We discussed the the sharing of stories and a little about Storyful. 

After the group photo I explored the Rare and Recent Bookshop before a few drinks.

Dinner in Pat Cohan’s gave me an opportunity to catch up with Pauline Sargent and learn more about how some political parties are engaging or not locally.

There were all to brief conversations with too many. And lots of people I didn’t get to talk to at all. I need to dig into Caroline Lawless piece on managing online identity.  I missed the huddles on the issues with the Internet of Things some insights into what may be the best managed twitter account in Ireland Garda Traffic  and whether or not the postman has read my email and many more besides.

Some final thoughts

The social nature of social media, the challenges its poses and that it is all about people, people, people came through again and again in the papers and the  conversations.

If “Hashtags subvert hierarchy” is the new “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” then Congregation is a hearty stew of social serendipity takes you places that are important even if its not necessarily what you were expecting.

By serendipity I came across this by Steve Wheeler  writing on Ivan Illich. He quotes Illich

“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.”

Unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.

That is the definition of Congregation.


People Social Media

Build a #HouseforRudolph

Homelessness is a huge and growing problem in Ireland. This year more than 800 children and their families have lost their homes,

Focus are working to eliminate Homelessness.  This Christmas we want kids in Ireland to build a #HouseforRudolph and the parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, friends to donate to support.

Its easy. Build a house in Lego or Minecraft or draw your house. Or make it any other way. Take a photo or a video. Upload it to  Facebook/Twitter/ Instagram/Youtube/Pinterest wherever  your friends will see it. Tag it #HouseforRudolph

Then text HOMELESS to 50300 to give €4 to Focus Ireland this Christmas

Here are three boys who’ve done their bit, and asked Michael D Higgins, Ryan Tubridy and their pal Hubert to build a house too. (Ff anyone can let the first two know we’d appreciate it)

Tell your friends. Have fun. And donate. Build a #HouseforRudolph  and help end homelessness.