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SXSW 2019: Insights & Trends for Forward Thinkers

There was music. There was learning. But most of all, there was BBQ.

All in all, SXSW 2019 was a pretty darn incredible time. And while there were fewer mind-blowing-out-of-this-world moments than there were last year, the sheer diversity and range of speakers and events meant that we definitely didn’t walk away feeling dissatisfied – if still a little confused by the difference between a hoedown and a hootenanny.

After starting in 1987 as a 700-strong music festival, SXSW has now grown to host over 160,000 delegates. Last year’s conference alone notched up over 75,000 attendees, with 4,967 speakers at more than 2,000 sessions. And no wonder, having hosted keynote speakers such as Elon Musk, been the launchpad for Twitter and Foursquare, and discovered artists like The White Stripes and Black Eyed Peas.

Safe to say, with delegates jetting in from 102 countries, it is the place to be for creative thought leadership in the digital space.

In 2018, keynotes largely focussed on the developments in AI and quantum computing. So it’s no wonder that this year question on everyone’s lips was “So, what next?”

From Hollywood actors to billionaire start up founders, futurists to relationship therapists, the common denominator was an exploration of what the future holds and how to manage the seemingly inevitable digital catastrophes that lie in store for us.

So without further ado, and with optimistic pessimism, let’s dive into our top 5 conferences from SXSW 2019 (with a couple of extras tacked on for you keen beans)…

1. Amy Webb – Founder, Future Today Institute

Amy Webb's future trend predictions
“Privacy is dead”

This was definitely one of the most highly anticipated conferences for the Haimat team at SXSW this year.

Following on from her predictions last year on the dire state of AI IP ownership, her keynote looked at trends across industries to make predictions over the next 5-10 years, broken down into optimistic, neutral and catastrophic forecasts.

Insights:

  • Privacy is dead. If you needed any other proof, just take a look at Kia and MIT who are working on a car that constantly monitors the driver through biometric scanning. Feeling a bit of road rage? A bit stressed out by traffic conditions? The car will respond with a soothing piano melody to bring you back to a normal state. Sounds cool right? But the breakdown of privacy also means universal genetic databases, persistent recognition systems and behavioural biometrics that bring to mind some pretty interesting issues of how data is stored and who owns it. Scenarios for 2034: Optimistic (10%); Neutral (50%); Catastrophic (40%).
  • Your home is smarter than you think. With the downward trend in phones, comes an increase in other connective tissue between us and technology. Voice devices have increased by 78% year on year in the US, and it is predicted that by 2021, half of the interactions that you have with machines will be through voice. Coupled with the surge in biodata, this means that your microwave could soon be refusing to let you make popcorn because you should really eat something healthy in stead. Or refusing to unlock your garage because you live 10 minutes away from work, and you really could use the exercise this week. Scenarios for 2034: Optimistic (0%); Neutral (30%); Catastrophic (70%).

2. Esther Perel – Psychotherapist, Esther Perel Global Media

Now that we’ve covered the doom and gloom side of things, it’s time for a bit of love and kindness in the form of the next close contender – Esther Perel. Esther’s background in relationship counselling and psychotherapy offered some amazing insights into developing and maintaining workplace relationships. And no, not the romantic kind.

Her keynote examined the direct correlation between the quality of workplace relationships and the quality of work being produced. And with 65% of start ups failing because the founders have fallen out, understanding and developing relational intelligence is a fundamental requirement for building productive future workplaces.

Insights:

  • The revolution of the workplace has changed our expectations. In the generations before ours, the language of work used to be determined by survival. Now, as the performance economy is supplanted by the service economy, work and love are using the same vocabulary. Fulfilment, recognition and appreciation trump salary.
  • It’s time for meta communication. This means identifying the marker of the subject that is being avoided, understanding how to identify explicit versus implicit communication, and how upbringings impact autonomy and ability to delegate.

3. Roger McNamee – Managing Director, Elevation Partners

Roger McNamee discusses the future of big tech
Anti-trust: is this the answer you’ve been looking for?

In conversation with editor in chief of Wired magazine, Nicholas Thompson, the early mentor to Mark Zuckerberg and author of ‘Zucked’ offered an incredibly succinct and genuine assessment of social networks from the tech optimism years to now. He argued that the reason that Facebook had succeeded where so many others before had failed was due to a business model that focussed on trust and authentic usership.

Their recent business model of “deny, deflect, dissemble” clearly poses some pretty fundamental contradictions, then.

Insights:

  • Anti-trust & why regulation is good business. Coinciding with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to use antitrust regulations to break up the big tech firms, McNamee looked at historical examples to show that antitrust (or competition) laws actually promote innovation, rather than limit it.
  • We assume that technology is objective, but we overlook the fact that algorithms are written by people – who are highly subjective. Going forward, a key question will be how to ensure these biases do not translate into long-term negative effects.

4. Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger – Co-founders, Instagram

Undoubtedly two of the biggest names to appear on stage this year. But despite the queue to get in that was so long it crossed multiple levels or the massive $1bn price tag that accompanied the sale of Instagram, the single word that comes to mind when I try to encapsulate the session was: normal.

This isn’t to say that it was underwhelming. Normal and average aren’t the same thing. But after having just sat and watched a bejewelled A$AP Rocky in discussion with the Chief Design Officer of Daimler AG, the Instagram co-founders came across as down to earth, humble and real.

Insights:

  • Making big money doesn’t mean making big changes to who you are. One of my favourite moments of the discussion was when Mike Krieger described the morning after the Instagram sale. In stead of heading out to the most expensive restaurant in town or upgrading to a lamborghini, he head to his favourite cheapo burger joint near his house and did what he always did. Maybe with a large fries though.
  • Is your struggle meaningful? If you believe in what you do, you will make it work because you are ‘always on’. Even if sometimes this results in you making fixes to the algorithm late at night, while a little drunk, that you don’t remember doing the next morning. Kudos, Krieger.
  • What does authenticity mean in social media? How do you get people to stop sharing air-brushed moments and start showing the real stuff? Systrom describes it as a series of moments between moments. As audience size becomes larger, people become more selective of the levels of moments that are shared. We haven’t yet seen ‘close friends’ take off, but is this the answer that the ‘inauthenticity’ of Instagram?

5. Priscilla Chan – Co-founder, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

Priscilla Chan discusses the role of technology in providing equal access to education, health and justice
Using tech to deliver equality

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg set up the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to explore how technology can help to deliver solutions to the toughest issues in the world – focussing primarily on providing equal access to healthcare, education, and legal solutions.

It was incredible to watch someone clearly so passionate about what they do, and who believes so wholeheartedly in their approach. Watching Priscilla speak was an emotional experience, as she gave several case studies of exactly how technology can and must be used to promote equality throughout the globe.

Insights:

  • It can be easy to fall back on the doom and gloom, Blade Runner-esque vision of technology and lose sight of the true role that it will play in delivering equal opportunity throughout the globe.

That just about wraps up the top 5 from 2019. But in the end it was too close to call. Want to know a little bit more about what went on? We would too. Read on for some extra-insightful extras:

Jeff Katzenberg & Meg Whitman – Founder & CEO, Quibi

Hollywood meets Silicon Valley. What’s not to love?

Quibi is pitching itself as the next big thing when it comes to video. Snackable series, in 6-10 minute bites, produced by some of the biggest names in film (think Steven Spielberg big).

Insights:

  • The 25-30 age bracket uses their device for an average of 5 hours a day. This includes 70 minutes of short form content, a number that is increasing year on year.
  • The average American household spends $USD120 per month on entertainment. The next generation won’t want to pay for things that it isn’t interested in. So long single blanket subscription. Hello multiple niche content platforms.
  • The new form of storytelling is bite-sized. The birth of Quibi came from the insight that the typical book chapter is 20-30 pages, as this roughly equates to our attention span. Dan Brown turned this on its head by creating chapters that were one, two, three pages, meaning people could consume more content more quickly.

Jonah Peretti – Founder & CEO, Buzzfeed

Jonah Peretti discusses the role that content producers have to play in shaping the future of the Internet
How much responsibility lies with producers vs. consumers?

Our vision of the Internet isn’t a place of infinite rainbows and unicorns anymore. But Jonah Peretti argues that the “burning dumpster” dystopia of fake news can be solved. How?

By spreading more joy and truth.

Insights:

  • Making good content is more important than policing bad content. We’re talking media ethics 101 here, folks.
  • The big platforms are starting to understand the need for quality content. By creating new revenue streams that will reward the good and discourage the bad. For example, Buzzfeed’s Brand Safe Network allows companies to advertise across specific channels with premium video content that is more in-line with topics that viewers are interested in.

Jodie Foster – Actor, MasterClass

How much would you pay to get a tennis lesson from Serena Williams? Or a directing tutorial from Jodie Foster? MasterClass hosts a series of online classes taught by the biggest names in the discipline. And watching Jodie Foster talk about her experience definitely piqued our interest!

Insights:

  • Believe it or not, Jodie Foster finds acting incredibly nerve-wracking. Other than sharing her strategies for minimising anxiety, she also delved deeper into recognising when and why you are struggling with a role or a task – and the role of therapy in understanding, incorporating and navigating these personal challenges.

Howard Schultz – Former CEO, Starbucks

Howard Schultz discusses the role of organisations in giving back to their communities
With great success, comes great responsibility

After joining Starbucks in the mid 1980’s, Howard Schultz took the American coffeehouse chain global. More importantly, he showed that a company can care about its employees as well as its bottom line. Starbucks became renowned as the first company in the US that shared its successes with its employees by giving them shares.

He also used SXSW to announce his possible intention to run for the office of President of the United States. As an independent.

Insights:

  • With great success comes great responsibility. No, we’re not quoting Spiderman. If your company isn’t involved with the communities that it engages with, you’re going to struggle to build credibility.
  • The two-party system is broken, dysfunctional and has given rise to revenge politics. Now that doesn’t sound like Australia at all… We’re in the age of the independent.

Gwyneth Paltrow – CEO, Goop

Gwyneth has always been a bit divisive. But when it comes to business, her wellness company Goop is an undeniable success story. Speaking on her transition from actress to business owner, it was incredible to see a much more self-doubting side to a persona whose screen presence exudes confidence.

Insights:

  • “The scariest thing about being a leader is not knowing what you don’t know”. I’m sure everyone has been in the position of not wanting to ask a question for fear of undermining your team’s belief in your leadership. But do the benefits of vulnerable leadership (more collaborative teams, more shared knowledge, flatter workplace hierarchies) outweigh the risk to your ego?
  • Your culture is your business plan. If your workplace feels empowered, then they will perform powerfully. Who would have guessed. How do you maintain a healthy workplace culture when your organisation grows so large that one-to-one interactions are no longer feasible? By ensuring that every worker feels responsible and accountable for their representation of the company.

That just about wraps up our picks of the SX litter for 2019. If you’re keen to learn more about digital marketing or any of the points above, keep your eye on the Haimat blog as we release more in-depth analyses of these insights over the coming weeks and months.

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