Fahlgren Mortine Associates Share Their Experience at SXSW Interactive
Fahlgren Mortine associates Mary Hoy and Dennis Brown have immersed themselves in the SXSW Interactive experience. They share their thoughts on day three, and how it’s started to reshape their viewpoints from the previous two days, in these emails.
I’ve decided SXSW is like one of those huge Vegas buffets where all the food is the highest quality and perfectly prepared. You really can’t go wrong no matter what you choose, but you know you can only eat so much and everything looks so good. Choices, choices.
On day three I let the venue dictate my choices. The first two days, I bounced around between the Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt and other venues, and in between, I walked around getting a sense of the city. It was fascinating but exhausting. Today, I started in the Convention Center and finished there. The morning was all about storytelling. The first session, which I actually was able to walk into with a hot, fresh cup of coffee that I did not wait an hour in line for, making me temporarily feel like I had mastered the SXSW experience, was on storytelling on the new screens. It presented the work of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC. It presented the work they were doing to embed storytelling in tangible objects, such as toys, using wearables to connect story to our environment and using virtual reality and 360-degree storytelling. I thought one of the concluding statements from the three-person panel of researchers was especially thought provoking: “the real new screen is no screen at all.”
The second panel was in the same room (still feeling like a SXSW Zen Master) and was on the future of storytelling. It focused on interactivity and personalization in websites, videos and games. I saw some really compelling work including the Pepsi World Cup video where viewers get to dictate the action by what happens next and the Arcade Fire the Wilderness Downtown video where the video is personalized based on the address where you grew up. Give it a try; it is a totally immersive experience. According to this panel of video, interactive and gaming artists, “active video destroys passive video in user metrics every time.”
After lunch, I sat through my first keynote. It was from Phil Libin, founder and CEO of Evernote. He presented an interesting view of the landscape of any particular category based on the game rock-paper-scissors: startups with their sharp edges of innovation are the scissors; midsize companies that are growing out of their startup phase and have achieved the weight and heft of scale are the rocks; and large players, like IBM and Google, that can cover a market are the paper. Figuring out where you are in this spectrum helps define business strategy—his company’s strategy has to change now that they are “rocks.”
Very interesting stuff, but the real focus of his talk was about the art of bold decision-making. His contention is that we make too many decisions based on the potential risks rather than rewards. We do whatever looks the safest and that keeps us from making the bold decisions that have the potential to produce great results. Instead of weighing the risks, we should focus the early parts of the decision-making process on the potential outcomes—shift our focus from asking, “what if this doesn’t work” to asking, “what if this works?”
I won’t take you through the rest of the day as my one-venue strategy didn’t play out that well in the last couple of sessions. I did attend my first social event that night: a party at the Driscoll Hotel hosted by the IEEE. On the way back to the shuttle bus I took a walk down Sixth Street at 9 p.m. and saw that, while SXSW isn’t all about partying, there is a lot of drinking and entertaining that goes on. It was a weird mix of freak show, frat party and Mardi Gras. I think I know what that guy who was sleeping on the fitness room floor Friday morning was doing Thursday night.
Wow – sounds like you had quite the day! I would definitely agree on the exhaustion front – I caught my bus this evening with aching muscles and a mind so full I could barely recall what session I attended in the morning. Today was reflective for me. As we prepared for SXSW, we got a ton of advice on how to prepare and the logistics of it all. What I hadn’t prepared for was that I’d need a different approach to process information.
Conferences are conferences – places to gather insights, knowledge and new ideas. But SXSW is not quite like any other conference. It’s punctuated with celebrity, fueled by parties and artistically becomes larger than life through creative executions and crazy marketing stunts. I’d argue it affects the way you process what you’re hearing.
On the first day, I gravitated toward topics that made sense to what I do, but I questioned less than I normally would. I started to build a linear knowledge base of opinions, facts and thought leadership. Sessions started to build on top of each other, buzzwords started to surface and loose connections were made, but subject matter still lived independently.
Information I heard on the second day was instantly linked and compared to information that I’d gathered on the first day. As I mentioned yesterday, buzzwords and phraseology started to become more apparent and connections were created across topics and industries. Regardless of whether the discussion was on proximity marketing or social media, there remained a singular focus on the individual – how tech, media, sports, fashion and design industries intersect to reach a human being. My gained knowledge transitioned to more of a matrix – viewpoints and ideas from both days started to merge.
Throughout today, started to think far more critically. No longer was one session independent of another. When I listened to top marketers at Mashable, Refinery29 and Vox Media talk about the evolution of native in their platforms, I heard the information through a different lens. I heard amazing individuals like Sinan Aral from MIT and Young Guru, a mix engineer, talk about algorithms and the intent behind their authors – and saw a live version of beauty of debate from multiple viewpoints. I heard a philosophy about something so core to my marketing concept that I began to question what everyone else has been talking about for two days. I’m taking more time to use my experience and knowledge as a filter to apply against new insights. I’m wondering what to keep, what to toss and how it’s going to inform how I think.
I think it’s amazing that a single conference can walk you through all these stages – perhaps it’s the environment, the sheer amount of brain power, the zaniness that allows you to escape your comfort zone or something else altogether. Regardless, it’s quite fascinating and I’m curious to see how day four changes everything I’ve learned to date!