What I Learned In 5 Days Of Technology, Innovation and Inspiration: It's All About People

SXSW Interactive is all about people. It is, of course, a forum for the latest and greatest groundbreaking approaches in creativity and innovation – but at the end of the day, even as some claim technology is taking away from personal connections, the biggest event in technology is a breeding ground for face-to-face and personal interactions.

I used to cringe at the word networking. And when I say used to, I mean last week. Don’t get me wrong; I love meeting people, talking about life, careers, ideas. I just associated networking with selling. Whether it be selling yourself, your brand or your product. Actually, one piece of advice I read coming into this, my first trip to SXSW Interactive: Don’t be shy about promoting you or your brand; it is not the place to be humble.

However, over the last five days in Austin I met a wide variety of people -- and I didn’t feel the need to sell them, I talked to them. We discussed our companies, and our jobs. We talked about the new innovations and insightful talks that we had witnessed at SXSW. We exchanged ideas, with no expected ROI. This weekend changed my perception of networking, and actually gave me more faith in humanity. I know that seems a bit lofty, but hear me out.



I saw the line for a 15-minute presentation about employee engagement wrap around the corner -- people are obviously looking for more insight into how to engage employees and create desirable places to work. The focus on talent has shifted from finding it, to keeping it. Regardless of product, service or function, every business is about people.  

There was a plethora of presentations and panels about digitizing healthcare and going mobile – mHealth. We heard about the need to move from sick care to healthcare, with focus on putting healthcare into people’s own hands, literally, using mobile apps to monitor health, provide information and gain more options and control.

I met with authors, journalists, partners, fellow MRMer’s from across the U.S., IPG colleagues, former co-workers, a TV personality – as well as possible new partners, clients and friends. I felt such camaraderie among each group. There wasn’t competition among agencies, there wasn’t pressure from possible partnerships and there wasn’t too much ego.  

Even the majority of new apps that I came across were all about people and connections. I did find it interesting that while technologies are making it easier for us to do things and connect from anywhere, like the Beam Remote Presence System, they are also always sure to include an element of humanity.

The panel I went to on start-ups Made in NY was all about creating human experiences.

Jennifer Hyman, Co-Founder & CEO of Rent the Runway, got started because she wanted to create a culture where she would want to work.

David Gilboa, founder of Warby Parker, wanted to provide everyone access to the basic need of sight, with affordable eyeglasses. He wanted to help people, and in some way change the world.

With AmicusHQ, Seth Bannon wanted to provide a solution to an archaic fundraising system to help people’s voices be heard and to connect with people you know on things you care about.

Bob Garfield and Doug Levy’s book Cant Buy Me Like is about how brands have to act like people now to be 'liked.' Because people don’t just want a product to provide them value, they want to have trust and faith in the company producing it. There is now more then ever a need for humanity in business.

Songza is about providing people a way to serve up music to improve their lives. Co-founder Eric Davich said the response to his music concierge has been not just about discovering music, but he has literally heard “Songza is making my life better” & “Songza understands me.”

The start-up ECHO is about location-based connections between people within cities, and also across borders, connecting people – in real-time about a place, an experience they are having or want to be a part of.

So while the Google glasses are cool, and the star of the show may have actually been a cat -- Grumpy Cat seemed to be the biggest photo opp in Austin, sorry Al Gore -- what impressed me was that everything comes down to people and their experiences. All of the ideas and thinking is about providing ways for people to connect, live better, live longer – and so, yes, SXSW Interactive elevated my faith in the idea that people matter.



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