SXSW... My mind is totally blown
South by Southwest (SXSW) was 5 days of exhilarating, exhausting, inspirational and motivating content being drilled into us by some of the best creatives in the world. For the most part every talk was pumped full of information which will stick with me and forever shape the way I learn, work and live.
The awesome thing about this conference is that no matter if you are an entrepreneur, creative, techie, athlete, musician, family member, all of the above or none of the above – these lessons can be applied to all aspects of life. I want to share 4 things that I have learnt and loved from SXSW.
So here we go….
1. Don’t Believe. Question.
A speaker who gave me goosebumps was Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. While his knowledge, and the way he presents science in an incredibly accessible manner is fantastic, what struck me was his unadulterated fascination with learning, and determination to share this curiosity with others. Dr. Tyson discussed how important it is to still wonder, and to find things out for ourselves rather than accepting blindly – even simple things because that is what leads to growth and discovery.
I agree that we do accept everything we are told so readily, when what we could be doing is delving deeper, coming to our own conclusions and imagining further possibilities. As Dr. Tyson pointed out – humans consider ourselves intelligent because we designed the test for intelligence.
2. Creativity does not exist inside a vacuum.
Nor does genius. Nor does information.
This was a theme that ran through almost everything I attended. And while the premise is simple, it is amazing how, when defined in this way, it suddenly becomes so clear and integral to individual, societal and cultural development. And humanity if you want to get a little bit hyperbolic about it.
So what does it mean?
Austin Kleon, suggested a much more common yet rarely accredited alternative of ‘Genius’, which is ‘Scenius’ – the concept of a scene of people who create an ecology, a collaboration of minds in order to reach a higher goal. He advocated sharing your work, from ideation, influences/inspirations, through process and up to the end result – allowing others to view and reflect. In this manner, we become less selfish as we work towards a mission greater than our own, one that benefits more people and has greater impact. Kleon supports a cycle of continuous learning and teaching and not only sharing what you do, but what you love. So looks like we all need to get busy on Pinterest!
Likewise, Michael Neiling of Ocupop explained that you can’t design in a vacuum; you need to leverage the visual language and influences around you in order to create something which has meaning.
Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York, emphasised that you cannot gather information in a vacuum. He said the moment you try to fit people into a narrative, no matter how well intentioned, you stop listening to them and “the quickest way to lose your audience is to give them s*** they don’t want.”
3. Self-Promotion will not get you where you want to be.
We live in a world so heavily saturated with tweets, statuses, snapchats and instagramming, that many of us have reached the point where social media consumes us, and we have joined this conversation where everybody is yelling and no one is truly listening. We start to believe that if we get enough likes on our page we are going to make it and our idea will, like, so totally make us millions.
It doesn’t work that way.
When Brandon Stanton was fired from his job he moved to New York with no knowledge of photography or social media, armed only with the seemingly absurd goal of taking 10,000 portraits. Now he has 4 million followers, growing by 30,000 every day. How? He says he did it the old fashioned way – he worked hard. He spent months collating photos before ever approaching the press. He didn’t waste time telling people what he was going to do; he just got out there and did it.
Austin Kleon reiterated this by emphasizing that there is no point networking and making connections if you don’t first spend time getting GOOD at what you do. Once you show the processes, and prove that you are good and continually working on improvement – that is when you will make connections with value, rather than getting likes from your best friend’s mum on Facebook.
4. Preach what you practice.
Don’t worry, I didn’t get that wrong. Michael Neiling phrased it this way, and it makes a lot of sense. He suggested becoming an evangelist of your work and justifying everything you do. By doing this, not only does it mean you are more likely to be perceived as an expert and therefore credible, but you will be absolutely sure of sticking to your principles. In terms of design he explained the importance of supplying justified solutions rather than options, as Paul Rand famously said to Steve Jobs when asked for options for the NEXT logo– “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me”. Now, we can’t all be Paul Rand, but this is self-assuredness and accountability for your skills is a huge step towards becoming great.
I know this was a bit of an essay. So I applaud you if you made it this far and I hope you have found something of value. This was the most intense learning experience of my life and it was an honour to attend.
If you have just skim read this because you sooo can’t be bothered reading this while the new episode of Revenge is on then let me leave you with these summarised tidbits of the most important themes I have taken from SXSW:
Never lose your curiousity. Never stop questioning.
Figure out what your principles are and stick to them.
Collaborate. Share what you know, what you want to know and what you love.
Do the hard yards.
One mentally exhausted girl on an overly-inspired buzz in Austin.