Candid News and Events Uncategorized

Dubunking some of our notions about support for Science

We held our first #debunk in the Project Art Centre on the 9th of April.  It’s the first in a series of free morning Near Future events in Dublin where we explore #debunking some of the truism’s that misguide us all in our thinking and decision making.

After great coffee and pastries our first speaker Barre Fitzpatrick (pictured above) spoke eloquently on the nature and role of funding for basic Science research in Ireland.  This is a topic of critical importance to Ireland as a society and its place in the world. Barre pointed out that before 1999 we lacked a serious policy and investment in Science. This despite significant achievement in Science over many years.

The changed with the foundation of Science Foundation Ireland in 2000 and in some respects the period from 2000-2009 can be seen as a brief golden age for Science in Ireland.  An all too brief period it seems. Despite a decade of work the foundations that were being build are starting to crumble. A letter signed by over 900 Irish Scientists appearing just before our talk served to underline this problem.

A key point that Barre made, and is raised by the letter is that

By their very nature, such discoveries are not predictable and cannot be prescribed by what the Government calls “oriented basic research”. Equally unpredictable are the areas in which important discoveries will be made. Basic research should be funded on the criterion of excellence alone to ensure a credible and sustainable scientific infrastructure.

The Innovation Union Scorecard shows that Ireland

According to the Innovation Union Scoreboard 2014, Ireland ranks ninth on the performance of research and innovation systems in the EU countries.

Sweden tops the list, followed by Denmark, Germany and Finland. These states have balanced research and innovation systems, with very good performance on all aspects evaluated (research and innovation inputs; business innovation activities; innovation outputs; and economic effects).

As Barre noted during the talk most Irish statistics used relate back to numbers for 2009. When the system was at it’s strongest.

Barre took us through some critical points on language and the use of language with regards to research.  The linguistic positioning of research as “pure” and “ivory-tower” and a “blue sky” approach was contracted with the need for a pragmatic “grounded” approach in Ireland’s straightened circumstances. This illustration

Using another metaphor a recent piece in the Irish times wrote that

Making sure we have an SSTI policy that delivers is crucial. The age-old metaphor– “the chain is as strong as the weakest link” – is very relevant here both in relation to RD&I policies for enterprises and for investment in research and development in the higher education sector, since research and innovation are on a continuum.

To thrive in the 21st Century Ireland needs the correct State policies in place to foster local innovation, a system of secondary education that produces a scientifically literate knowledgeable society, a system of tertiary education that generates new knowledge, an industrial system that works with the educational system to produce innovative goods and services, and a system of state structures that provides the overarching framework to support innovation. The system must be dynamic enough to anticipate, pre-empt, and adapt to exogenous change yet static enough preserve the ability to change.

Despite our rhetoric about the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) we are failing badly at this.

Barre’s inspired half hour exposition led into a further animated  half hour discussion amongst the attendees before we reluctantly wrapped up just after 9am.

Communication strategy Technology Uncategorized

Snails, Systems and Slack

Paul Quigley CEO of Newswhip wrote a lovely blogpost about the great Snail Derby of 1998. Faced with the problem of getting the Snails to race in the same direction, an innovative 6yo came up with Snail Trails.

 Snail trails. Snail trails are not a product you can buy. Snail trails are a streak of water, placed in front of a snail using one’s fingertip.

You see, snails prefer pushing themselves over wet surfaces than dry surfaces. My girlfriend observed that a simple streak of wetness leading directly from the snail’s current position to the finish line kept them on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Snail trails saved the day, and the snail derby of 1988 was a roaring success.

Paul goes on to describe how you create snail trails for customer acquisition for SaaS businesses.

There is a broader lesson for businesses in the use of technology.  Demming said that “A bad system will beat a good person every time.”  A snail trail is a better system. It’s a very clever use of lightweight technology to reduce friction in a process.  Good systems do that. They reduce organisational friction.  They drive better organisational conversations.   And the value of reducing friction in processes and conversations is very very large.

One company that is building organisational snail trails is Slack.  I’m a very big fan of Slack. The value of what it’s is doing is rumoured to be up to $2 Billion. Double what it was worth 12 months ago. That’s part of the value that Slack is capturing. And it reflects a small portion of value that it is creating by building better Snail Trails.


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Dermot has extensive expertise in the area of Digital Transformation and Strategy.[/author_info]

[button link=”” color=”black”] Would you like to talk to Dermot about this?[/button]  [/author]

Our featured image is Snail Trails from Luís Estrela on Flickr

News and Events strategy Uncategorized

The Emperor’s New Facts

“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us into trouble, it’s the things we do know that just ain’t so.”  Artemus Ward

We’re focussed on helping people improve their businesses in Near Future.  And we think a lot about how we might do that. A part of that involves improved thinking, and asking awkward questions.  I’ve found over time that most ideas are logically constructed and the best way to challenge ideas are to challenge the assumptions, the basis on which they’re built.  If the assumptions are wrong everything else falls apart.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert L Sutton wrote a wonderful book on evidence based management a few years ago called “Hard Fact, Dangerous Half Truths & Total Nonsense” which poked holes in many of the modern Shibboleths of management.

One of the myths that Sutton and Pfeffer explored in their books was on the nature of Financial Incentives. The evidence shows that incentives sometimes demotivate, sometimes motivate the wrong behaviour and often attract the wrong sort of talent. Even in the best of circumstance are damn hard to get right. Even a company as clever as Microsoft has managed to design disastrous incentive systems that it has now abandoned.

We are planning a breakfast event in a few weeks in. It will be on the theme of what we know that isn’t true.  It is designed to break open a few management myths, the Emperors New Facts. The event will be invite only and we have a few open slots, email dermot if you’d like to be included in this or future events that we might run.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your ideas of things that are generally assumed but are wrong.




New Year’s Resolutions and a single thought

Sometimes its better to slide up on things sideways. Somewhere along the way I got more exercise and improved my weight this year, slightly by coming to them sideways. There’s a longer thank you post to come on some of these things. I’m wary of over general advice because context is everything. So rather than making and sharing a New Year’s resolution (or many) here’s a single thought.

An Uncle of mine died during the year. I used to be at a loss of what to say to people at funerals. “I’m sorry for your loss” just never sat right for some reason. It just felt wrong. When talking to one of my cousins I said “be kind yourself. Grief comes in waveSome are strong and deep and some are fast. Let them wash over you and don’t beat yourself up over things. Give yourself time.”

I think the thought “Be kind to yourself” is good advice. I’m not the only one. It’s something a friend pointed out to me. If I’d being paying attention I might have figured it out sooner myself. Being a bit kinder to myself in 2013 led to some of the better things in 2014. Shit will happen. Be kind to yourself when it does.

And be kind to others too.

Image by Marjan Lazarevski on Flickr shared via a Creative Commons Licence.


A straw is a small thing

As my Dad used to say “A straw is a small thing but it shows how the wind blows.”

The Brick is a small thing too. A bit bigger than a straw but as Damien Mulley pointed out

Not 100,000 people marching on the streets, but lots of bricks to be built on. And a straw can break a camels back.


Image Joey Gannon on Flickr via CC license


How we use our technology

My father used tell me a story of an old lady, Mary Dwyer. Mary’s house got ‘the electric’ during rural electrification  in the 1930’s.  Asked how she found electricity Mary declared it to be a wonderful invention. As it got dark in the evening she could turn on the light in her living room, then she could easily find the candles and light them before turning the light off again.

Much like Mary we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the power and potential of our technical tools.  For the first twenty years electricity was only used to power light bulbs. Then the electric motor was invented. And life changed.

Image via Brian Herzog on Flickr



The tl;dr version is – go see the movie.

The slightly longer version. Possible spoilers. Interstellar is a beautiful movie.  Raised on a diet of Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke and Fredrick Pohl I was reminded of some of the vastness of space tonight. And like any movie there are holes to pick. In the end its beautifully filmed, scored and acted. It is more artistic poetry than scientific prose. But that is OK.  There will invariably be comparisons to 2001 (which Clarke wrote the screenplay for and based on his original short story).  While the ending of 2001  reflected an almost drug induced journey into Innerspace and a cold subjectivity, Interstellar is at its heart a story about the love a father has for his children.  Cold and clinical Interstellar is not. It is beautiful. And ambitious and hopeful.


How to raise €6,000 for charity in three weeks

A couple of months ago a friend, John Holland emailed me about the Focus Ireland “Shine a Light” campaign. Sleep out for Focus Ireland, raise some money.  In a fit of enthusiasm I signed up.

Only later did I realise that the target for the campaign €5,000. My initial reaction was a stronger version “oh bugger”.

Eventual total was €6,076 (€25 offline).  Here’s a summary of how I raised the money and a few interesting things I learned along the way.

Step 1: Astroturf your own charity page.  Arriving at a page that is blank is interesting. What do I donate? What will other people donate. Working on some idea on signalling theory so the first few donations on the page were from me.

Step 2: email a bunch of friends. So the next step was a general email to a few dozen people which brought in another few hundred euro.  Also a very kind friend did a little astroturfing of her own and put in a few smaller amounts suggesting some of the people coming to the page might be scared off by the €50 donations.

Step 3: Small bit of blind panic wondering how we’re going to get to €1,000 much less €5,000

Step 4: Go for broke. So with a few thousand twitter followers and 1,500 people I actually know on LinkedIn I decided to do a little bit of email and social media marketing.

Step 5: Create a link to the page in to see how many people will click through to the page

Step 6: Download the email address of 1,500 people on LinkedIn and email them asking for sponsorship. I started by emailing the first 30 people individually. I then switched to BCC’ing groups of people. At this point after about emailing 1,000 people via BCC on my GMail account in groups of 200 I broke Gmail and it wouldn’t let me send any more emails.  I switched to another Gmail account for the last 500 or so.

Quite a few people emailed back and those donating drove the sponsorship over €2,000.

Step 7. Starting to think with my analytical hat on I decided to pull the email addresses into MailChimp. First step was to remove anyone who’d bounced, or sponsored or for some particular reason didn’t make sense. This took the totals down.  I pulled in the data and split into two groups – split on the surname rather than anything else and send in two different lots. One in the middle of the night, one the following morning. (To make sure that nothing blew up with the first campaign).

The analytics on this are quite interesting. Relatively high open rates and quite a different click through rate on the two groups.

This drove the sponsorship over the €3,500 figure which was great.

I was also tweeting and Facebooking the link  and some money came in this way.

Step 8 was to redo the Mailchimp campaign a few days before the sleepout. Segmenting into 4 groups of quality. People who’d opened > 2 times, people who’d opened 1-2 times, people who’d opened once and people who hadn’t opened at all.

At this point I discovered that Mailchimp had flagged me and was reviewing my account. With only a few days to go I decided to go back to the Gmail approach.

This time I asked for a very specific €5-10 figure. To try and not intimidate anyone. I removed anyone I knew who’d sponsored me or who’d replied privately and reran the campaign.

In my third mass emailing I watched the figure go over €4,000. Then with a €900 anonymous donation hit €5,000.

And it kept on going.

Here’s a summary of what I learned

People are generous. The amounts varied from €5 to €900 and each donation was great. I’d love to know who donated the €900.

The Sponsorship page for Focus Ireland is dreadful and needs to be improved. About 450 people arrived at the page and about 200 people sponsored. Somewhere along the line thats a few thousand euro in sponsorship that was lost.  At an average of €34 per person donating thats qu

Very few people who landed on the link after I hit the target sponsored me. I’m not sure if this was a case of target unlocked and people felt they were off the hook or for some other reason. I’d love to understand more.

Most important of all.  There are over 5,000 people homeless in Ireland. Over 45 families were made homeless in Ireland last year and Focus needs all the support you can give. You can donate here 

as a p.s. hear are some of the raw analytics from Mailchimp

Screenshot 2014-11-10 20.40.58 Screenshot 2014-11-10 20.40.48 Screenshot 2014-11-10 20.40.20 Screenshot 2014-11-10 20.40.08 Screenshot 2014-11-10 20.39.40




The centre cannot hold

Reminded of this again this morning thanks to a post on Facebook.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.



Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


Technology Uncategorized

A post a day to keep the blogger at bay

An interesting conversation with the very insightful Mary Carty made me realise that if I was going to blog a little I needed to blog a lot.

So this blog is  a thought journal, a collection of curious things, a thought catalyst.

Rough not finished. Letting some ideas out so they can mix and some new ones can climb in.

A post a day to keep the blogger at bay.