The Quiet Unconference that is CongRegation
CongRegation is the unconference whose entry is via a blog post. This year the theme was innovation. It is the calmest conference in the world. Attendees meet in small groups around the village of Cong, each joining with a different group in four ‘huddles’; coffee and lunch breaks are long in the best unconference tradition. Eoin Kennedy, the most genial and humble organiser I’ve ever met, allowed me a free pass on the beforehand blog post in return for being a chair for the day. Here’s my “apres Cong” post! I was presiding in the art gallery at Ryan’s hotel, which was empty for the winter, or as the witty huddlers surmised, it was showing the exhibition John Cage might have offered. Some visitors put the Wonderbar beer mats to good use:
Over the day, four groups joined me round the table, huddled, and moved on. Each group was a different kettle of fish, and the four conversations that ensued were wonderful. In each huddle, three volunteers outlined their idea of innovation, and the rest of us joined in, asked questions, offered advice. My notes for the huddles, in skeletal form:
Claude spoke on his father’s work with the ancient LaJolla tribe in California – ain’t no innovation without stressors; Barre continued this theme on a fabulous slime mold analogy, and and added an aside about his uncle’s experience in the French Resistance during WW2; Kelsey on being a “mobile millenial”; round the table were Hassan, Cronan, Pearse, Neil, Thomas and me. [Our general chat was on the changing nature of life from centralised control to more local democratic control; the new ‘roving bard’ spreading cultural ideas; the Trump phenomenon in small town America – it was bound to come up at some stage]
Paddy kicked off by describing the changing face of a reformed financial advisor’s world; Alex described how automating certain repetitive tasks can make life easier; Jane on encouraging her students to tell it like it is, without the sugar coating or “hero” effect; Morgan, Joan, Jacinta, Gavin, David, Sinead, Conn, and Robyn each chimed in – this was the “busiest” huddle of my day. [There was much discussion on customer journey maps, advice & device, context, communication, and hyperpersonalisation as both a positive and a negative force.]
Richie began on the saving power of sea swimming and on learning Mandarin Chinese; Anna outlined her purposive mindful digital detox strategies; John spoke of his role in enabling entrepreneurs in Mayo; there was a lively round table with Sabine, Alastair, Denis, Tom, David, Dermot, and me. [Anna’s ideas connected back to Barrie’s new ‘non-smart’ watch in huddle 1; our collective chat included us comparing advantages and and disadvantages of analog v digital news; we all learned two words of Cantonese: thcoo = go, ren = person; and we ideated a new workshop called Pimp My Pitch]
By this time of the day, we just had one left to tell his tale – Barney sought advice on creating a culture of learning and appreciating Irish music in his town; he was in the right place as Helena, Karen, Pamela, Lee, Karl, Michelle and me were all free with our ideas. [We had a relaxed and happy general chat – foreshortened by an early finish to go get our ‘family photograph’ taken – on all we had learned and seen over the day.]
A brief word on the “social huddles” – lots of fun and chats and music and food was shared over the weekend – thanks to Lydons Lodge our party had two really gorgeous Trip-Advisor-comment-worthy meals. It is rumoured that some folk had a very late night after the opening lectures in Ashford Castle. The craic in Danaghers pub on Saturday night was only “mighty” as they say in Mayo – how to unconference an unconference? – organise a lesson in blues harmonica playing and let a few dozen loons loose together at it. It is also rumoured that a group of hardy bucks went climbing a hill on Sunday morning.
My own thanks for their life affirming company to my cottage sharing friends John Davitt, Richard Millwood, Pamela O’Brien and Hassan Dabbagh. Legends all.
Lots of the stories can be followed by checking the #cong17 on twitter. All submissions can be read at the website, and in time Eoin Kennedy will publish them as an e-book.
Roll on #cong18 on Nov 23th-25th – the final rumour is that some folk are booked into their accommodation already. Good move.
ps – we still have to figure out a meaning for Regation…