South by Southwest Is a Feast for the Human Brain

  • Categories:

    Industry Trends, Inspiration

  • Date:

    March 19, 2019

South by Southwest Is a Feast for the Human Brain



Industry Trends, Inspiration

Each year in March, the South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Conference & Festivals stages a massive takeover of downtown Austin, Texas. This electrifying convergence of the interactive, film and music industries bills itself as the premier destination for discovery — a tantalizing opportunity for those of us in the creative marketing industry.

It’s a lot to unpack, more than I can share in this post. I hope you enjoy these takeaways as consolation. 

Artificial intelligence is the real deal.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not one single, tangible unit. Instead, AI is a collection of technologies inspired by (but still quite different from) the human brain. It’s poised to change the future of our defense, education, energy, global transportation and health care industries.

The next big thing? Pairing brains with machines. Imagine how augmented memory could enhance and extend quality of life. The possibility makes me equal parts excited and sad — I wish this technology had been around for the mother I lost to Alzheimer’s disease.

Some big questions to ponder: Is technology making us dumber? And, will automation replace humans and human jobs? We can realize positive and fruitful value from automation by taking care of people whose roles are replaced. Will we have the political will and human empathy to make that happen? Believe it or not, automation can help make room for even more creativity and innovation. Will we have the desire and drive to realize that potential?  

Even with the incredible excitement around AI today, the device between our ears is still the most advanced tool we have. And SXSW is, without a doubt, a mouthwatering feast for the human brain.

How thick is your data?

You’ve heard of big data, but are you familiar with thick data? While big data continues to provide numbers, thick data yields rich insights into stories and culture. This anthropological approach to reaching and engaging with consumers is gaining momentum in marketing communications and elsewhere. 

Empathy matters.

When we incorporate empathy into our work, we can collaborate more intimately, understand others more deeply, perceive our own powerful sense of individuality and create with versatility.

On the flip side, when we lack empathy, we diminish our ability to do great creative work. 

As Atticus Finch tells his daughter in the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird,” “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” 

I’m beginning to master modern modes of transportation. 

Staying on Austin’s vibrant South Congress Avenue meant learning to ride a scooter if I wanted a fast, cool, easy mode of transportation into the heart of SXSW. My daughter, Chloe, wrote a scooter riding tutorial for Charlotte Agenda, so like a good mom, I took her advice, and off I went.

The moral of this story? You can teach an old dog new tricks. Riding a scooter at this larger-than-life event was an exhilarating experience that made me feel like a kid again. I’m officially a huge fan of scooters, and I want one of my own.    

A few final thoughts …

Consistently putting yourself in uncomfortable positions is an excellent way to stay creative. 

Consumers don't want to be consumers. They want to be active co-creators of their experiences. The more closely you can connect to your audience and their desires, the more successful you’ll be.

Tune into your audience if you want them to tune into you.

Hardworking assets have a time and place, but interesting and engaging creative and content still play a leading role in building and growing brands.

The windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror for a reason. Learn from looking back but focus on the future.  

Encouragement is invaluable. Remind yourself and those on your team to always be curious, honest, vulnerable, open-minded, selfless, undeterred and brave. 

You can indeed eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and still make it back to the East Coast in one piece).