Sifting (And Searching) Through The Inspiration At SXSW

Greetings from sunny Austin and the SXSW Interactive festival!

Four days into this year's event, I'm still somewhat intimidated by the sheer enormity of it all. There are more vendors, sessions, meetups, and parties than any one person can ever hope to experience firsthand. Being a first-timer, I wasn't nearly prepared enough for this grand an event. Lesson learned. I'll do better next year.

In coming to Austin, I had one simple goal: seek out insights and experiences from other industries. Since arrival, I've forced myself to break away from the usual suspects of search, social, and data analytics. Instead, I very deliberately sought topics that would expand my perspective on the digital communications landscape. I wanted to hear from thought leaders in complementary spaces. So far so good. 

Brian Chesky - Founder and CEO, Airbnb

"We believe the share economy will one day be just as important as the 'real' economy,” said Chesky during a Q&A session with Fortune magazine. Chesky's firm allows property owners to rent spare bedrooms, entire homes, boats and other eclectic "beds" to travelers and tourists. This type of peer-to-peer exchange has been coined "collaborative consumption" or the "share economy."



Chesky confided to the audience one of the aspects of Airbnb's success: they pay attention to their customers. The company has hired some of its most passionate early users, and despite having a personal net worth that Forbes estimates to be ~$240 million, Chesky himself is homeless. To better understand and sympathize with users, he has chosen to reside exclusively through available Airbnb rentals.

Scott Cook - Founder, Intuit

A few years ago Cook and his leadership team at Intuit decided to overhaul the way their company assessed new opportunities and innovation. Inspired by the research and writing of Eric Ries, the author of The New York Times bestseller "The Lean Startup," Cook installed a new corporate culture emphasizing experimentation. Driven by a belief that entrepreneurs can exist and thrive in existing organizations, Intuit today encourages its employees to invest 10% of their individual work time to "experiment" with their own ideas for the company.

Intuit today assesses new product opportunities through a simple three-element lens:

1)  Does it attack a big and unsolved customer problem?
2)  Does it actually solve that problem?
3)  Does it provide the organization an opportunity for durable competitive advantage?

Art, Copy & Code - Google

The Art, Copy & Code session has been my most inspiring of the show. Google demoed several concept ideas it was working on, both internally and in tandem with external partners like Volkswagen and creative agency Deutsch.

Attendees saw examples of talking sneakers that responded to both action and inaction by the wearer. That demonstration was then topped by a new mobile app dubbed "Smileage," in which a phone connected via Bluetooth to a Volkswagen, then documented a user’s journey through the app and across Google+ profiles. These were exciting peeks into a future state of technology, where digital enhances "real world" experiences.

I was forewarned, and am now a believer: SXSW is an experience unlike any other in the interactive space. I only hope I can long remember the sense of awe and inspiration I've had these past few days.

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