Five important soundbites from SxSW

danger_opportunity_crisis_mandarin_word_meaning_chineseEventually there will be some very impressive data visualizations of SxSW. How many people, how many sessions, how many beers consumed, how many hangovers. Until then you can check out Mashable’s SxSW by the numbers. Or poke around SxSWs’s press room.

But to be honest, I’m less interested in how much there is to pore through and more in the few things that might actually be useful, transferable, and worth remembering. Which is why I go every year. To find insights and perspectives that might serve a purpose the other 360 days.

Out of consideration for the fact that you are either:

A. Home but still waiting for the alcohol-induced haze to subside
B. Too busy doing actual work back at the office while your more fortunate colleagues are partying under the guise of working down in Austin
C. Still there in which case you’re overwhelmed already

….I share only five. Certainly you can remember five.

All In

You are not a true entrepreneur unless you go all in. You don’t even have genuine conviction unless you go all in. This from Olan Musk, who in his interview with Chris Anderson, shared how he took every cent he had from his PayPal fortune, along with whatever else he collected from Tesla or other initiatives and put every last cent into SpaceX. To the degree that he had to borrow money to pay living expenses. If you had a couple of hundred million would you keep some back? Or go all in. Big balls.

Out of the Internet

This from Google’s Aman Govil during his Art, Copy & Code talk with Ben Malbon. It’s time we stopped making things for the Internet and started making things out of the Internet. This was one of the evident trends and ideas at SxSW this year, apparent in lots of new services and platforms. But it’s an important reminder. The ad industry is still thinking that ads on a mobile phone are the way to go. That would be making things for the Internet. Uber and others, on the other hand, are doing the opposite. Out of the Internet. Get on it.

Crisis in Chinese and Japanese

WpvSdul_XaAl Gore says that the word for crisis in both Chinese and Japanese is composed of two characters. One means danger. The other means opportunity. Think about that. The language forces you to consider the positive with as much emphasis as we typically place on the negative. I’m not sure that English focuses us that way. Crisis tends first to elicit thoughts of danger, harm and concern. We may eventually see opportunity, but maybe we should see the opportunity immediately. For example, to use Uber again, urban cabbies can only see danger. That will lead to their inevitable failure.


Capture the Imagination

Clean tech — wind power, solar power, biomass, hydropower, biofuels — never quite reached its potential because it never captured our imagination, says David Merkoski, former ECD at Frog Design, now founder of Greenstart. The clean web on the other hand — AirBNB, ZipCar, other companies whose models are based on collaborative consumption — will and do. They may not have been created to clean the environment, but because they use fewer resources and waste less energy ultimately they will.  More importantly they capture our imagination by inviting us to both create and participate. They get used, they spread, they get used even more. Fail to capture the imagination of users and sharers and little happens. Oh by the way, it’s the same reason that big business in America is despised more than Congress, according to Whole Foods CEO and founder John Mackey. That’s pretty obvious once it’s pointed out.

Behavior Should Impact Design

And you thought it was the other way around. Ha! In a rapid fire talk from Adaptive Path’s Chris Risdon, the behavioral designer, reminded us that every design decision we make, in any medium (digital or analog) influences our user.  But too often we start with what we want to achieve and what we think will work or be logical. But given that we live in world that lets us collect endless data on an individual user’s behavior and have multiple ways to tell/create/frame a story or experience, we’ll be a lot better off if our design allows itself to be informed by the user we’re trying to motivate.

More to come on either this blog, Ideas Still Matter, or Mullen’s site.


. @benkunz Train tracks, however, offer a higher barrier to exit than a social platform. Will comment in detail later.


SXSW reminds me of railroad gauges. I was geeking out one night, as I often do, reading about the history of technology and learned that the width between train rails went through numerous iterations before the U.S. and England settled on 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. The end result wasn't perfectly optimal; wider gauges -- the distance between the steel rails -- allow boilers in engines to be bigger, and due to some law of physics larger boilers produce more energy at a lower cost, so conceivably train rails 6-feet across would work much better. In other areas like Africa, rails were as close as 3 feet. But a guy named Robert Stephenson in England laid down the most track at 4' 8 1/2", and that built momentum until it stuck. He later said he regretted the decision, but lock-in prevailed.


Which brings me back to SXSW. After numerous early years of experimenting with technology tools, especially social media, the tools are settling down. Facebook and Twitter won. Ben Malbon says it's time to do stuff with the Internet, not just play with how to get on it. Elon Musk and Al Gore say we should reach for the stars and fix the environment, not worry about making money next quarter. Yeah, Vine is cool, but really people; the UI and UX have got to settle down.


It was refreshing in Austin to see our vision broaden to the periphery and distant horizon. But I'm a bit sad that the days of playing with new tools, and like gauges wondering which will win, are over. Good to see you there, @edwardboches. 


@edwardboches Good stuff. Also saw your BU blog on art copy code. I’m going to start writing up today.


@edwardboches You haven't seen how many photos my wife has uploaded into Facebook....


@dweingrod Loved meeting you too! Wish we could've hung out more. Thanks for sharing your post :)