The third and last in a series of posts capturing people’s takeaways from SxSW. The open ended question yielded lots of thoughts and reactions united by the theme of connection.
Behind the iPhones and the social networks, actual people
“I didn’t really have a single ‘aha’ moment, but the human side of it was the best bit in every respect. Some stand out things for me: Biggest stand-out thing: Hanging out with people I’d only ever known before as avatars and addresses – for real – in a theme park called The Kingdom of Awesome. And then meeting their friends as well. And partying. Inspiring.
Second, Clay Shirky. “Abundance breaks more things than scarcity.” Hooray. And for re-connecting us with our human-nature-via-primate research and brilliant storytelling. Sneaky.
Third, Jaron Lanier for telling us to switch off Twitter and shut our laptops for a few seconds, and then for playing these brilliant solos on exotic and ancient pipe-based instruments. Chilling, charming and real. In terms of takeaways, I can’t stop thinking about things you could do with Foursquare, or what you couldn’t do with it. “
We need to be doing something interesting if we’re to share it
“Interestingly enough, my SXSW epiphany didn’t happen during the “Interactive” portion of the conference, it happened during the subsequent music festival. Starting Tuesday, watching the ironic-t-shirt-clad geeks leave and the skinny-jean-Mohawk-toting musicians and fans arrive was a prelude to witnessing literally two completely separate worlds.
There I was in Austin, Texas on the latter half of SXSW witnessing thousands of individuals creating music and other forms of art. Despite the amazing resources available to these creators, the vast majority of them don’t know how to optimally market themselves. On the flip side, the former half of the week was composed largely of individuals who knew how to market something (or claimed to) but often had nothing of their own to share with the world other than intangible items (personal brands, marketing services, etc).
After nine days in Austin, I’ve realized that the Renaissance man is an exotic creature in this world and striving to become one is something that we should all aspire to. We all don’t need to know how to paint, or be pro photographers, or play guitar, but we do need to be doing something INTERESTING. Something that isn’t our job, something we do because we have nothing to gain from it other than exposing ourselves to MORE in this world.”
Social media is boring until we do something innovative with it
“I spent the first two days of the conference sick in bed, reading tweets. And I was surprised to find that much of the conversation was negative. People were bored. Panels were disappointing. No one had anything original to say. Now, it could be inferred that I simply follow a lousy group of complainers, but I’d have to disagree (at least for Edward’s sake).
We find ourselves in a time and a place that calls for more than pedagoguery. The “you sit and listen while I talk” format is simply a bad fit for where we are. It’s a bit too long of an example to cite in this format, but complex adaptive systems show us that without recombinance, without the sharing and mutation and adaptation of solutions and thinking, the system is doomed for a rapid path to mediocrity. And that’s where we find ourselves.
We need lots of people talking. We need companies that collect insights and share predictions. We need more conversations like this. Social media IS boring. And that’s a great thing, because that’s when we can stop lecturing about it and start innovating with it. Well, that’s what I took away from this year’s SXSW.”
Ideas live in the dialog
“I found excellent content at SXSW this year that again didn’t tell me how to think, but rather what to consider–see talks by Jaron Lanier, Fred Beecher, and Jeffrey Zeldman and team Happy Cog. And that content was enriched by the meta-content created in hallway conversations and over late night tacos. Quality content begot quality conversation–but that demands quality participants as well.
Participatory listening and learning exploded this year at SXSW. Twitter was in full swing as a tool of synthesis, not just quotation. As you recall, Jaron Lanier encouraged us to put down the devices and instead just bask in the presentation. You probably noticed I couldn’t do that for long; I have grown too accustomed to the dialogue engendered by a democratic learning style to sit silently amidst monologue. It’s not that I seek the sound bite ready for re-tweeting. Rather, it’s the participation, not the pithiness that I need. Formal, final content can live in books; ideas are what live in dialogue, and that was alive and well this year in Austin.”
Connections can turn into relationships
I had a profound aha moment while in Austin, but it did not come from a panel or keynote. Rather, it came from a conversation with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and we snuck away for some cold beer and nachos at a nearby restaurant. That single conversation and reconnection answered a personal question I had been pondering for months. For me, that is where the real power of a conference the size of SXSW comes into play. While the content is great and there are a lot of things to see, the fact of the matter is that so many diverse people from every corner of the Internet are in town for those few days. It allows us to take the connections we have made online in any capacity and transform them into much more meaning relationships.
Comfortable, incremental change is not enough
SXSWi is, right now, the barometer for what’s happening in our industry. The most important idea I took from Austin is the need to look beyond comfortable, incremental change. There is no question that the advertising business is moving steadily towards complete, almost comical, irrelevance. Some of us are privileged to work in more progressive environments, but the fact is we’re only marginally better off – we still share more organizational DNA with dinosaur agencies than the start-ups creating many of the tools we use and content we consume.
I also learned we’re not going to fix anything working on our own. One of the greatest characteristics of SXSWi is the culture of openness – perhaps it’s some kind byproduct of social media-enabled sharing and the communal power of open source development. Whatever the reason, interactive folks don’t seem to nurture the secrecy fetishes of some of our traditional counterparts. It was inspiring to talk openly with competitors about things that have worked, haven’t worked, and why. You quickly understand that we are in this together, and if we can figure out a better way of working, it’s going to benefit everyone. I guess I’ve always believed this in principle, but the act of putting it into practice has turned me into a convert.
Though many of the most interesting moments took place in / on hallways, lunch tables and barstools, there were plenty of quotes and useful pieces of information picked from the sessions. Favorite quote was from the stunningly quotable Clay Shirky, something like “the minute people understand something’s important, all progress stops”, which appealed to my producer brain. There’s nothing worse than the paralysis that follows a great idea – too many people scrambling to get involved in something and ruining it in the process. The best work is accomplished with small, multi-disciplinary, empowered, teams. This is something we’ve implemented and – true to form – I’m now sharing with other agencies through organizations like Boulder Digital Works. Feels good.
Thanks again to Tim, Len, Bud, Margot, CC and Matt. Everything you say is not only true, you’ve proven it with your willingness to share it here.