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Science, Social Good, Standing Out and Storytelling – My Fearless Four for SXSW 2014

March 14, 2014

They say everyone’s SXSW experience is a different one. 2014 was my first – and as the saying goes ‘Everything is Bigger in Texas!’ The advice I got was generally good – focus on connecting one-on-one (#tick), pace yourself (#fail) and don’t do shots after 1am (#failagain).

So, with 30,000+ people, hundreds of events, over five days spread across the entire city, how do you choose a Fearless Four? Actually, when I sat down and reflected on my personal experience – it was quite easy.

  • If I’d had a chance to demo Games of Thrones on Oculus Rift (my biggest SXSW regret), it would definitely had made my Fearless Four! However, without further ado, amongst the four days of craziness here’s what stood out for me:
  1. The Science of Storytelling by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Definition of fearless? The day before you premiere a television program rolling out to half a billion viewers, on over 220 outlets in 181 countries around the world – with a special introductory message by President Barack Obama – you deliver the most engaging and entertaining keynote of SXSWi!

Tyson’s conversation with Scientific American editor Christie Nicholson had a strong impact on everyone I talked to. His ability to tell stories about the wonder we all have for the Cosmos and his ability to speak directly to the science geek that lives in all of us, truly stood him apart – and he deservedly won the Best Speaker Award for SXSWi – it wasn’t even close.

This Mashable article covers many of highlights and if you can track down a video, sit down and watch it – which is what I’ll start doing with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey this week. A wonderful reminder that great stories, well told, move everyone.

  1. Geeks Getting Purpose

This article, summarizing Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks (which I was not at) does the job of best relaying the overall feeling that I had – that SXSW wants to be much more Renaissance Man (ok, Polymath…) than its reputation as Geekfest. There were many strong conference tracks on topics as diverse as; science, behavioral psychology, sports (Shaq keynoting… hello?!?), creativity etc. However, there was no stronger feeling I got wandering around then that participants truly want to do well by/through doing good. While inane ‘Best Selfie Ever’ shots were everywhere (thanks, Ellen!), the huge range taken at the Social Good Hub, with people holding up cards to display their beliefs and cares on a range of issues felt more authentic – well, for a selfie anyway…

  1. International entreprenurs Work Hard to Stand Out (OK, be noticed…)

The SXSW Trade Show was HUGE! HT to my boy Marshall Manson who suggested I take the time to visit all the country booths, which I did. In fact, I was so busy I wasn’t able to join Marshall on his annual pilgrimage to Crawford (45 mins away) for the best BBQ in Texas – which was my loss. Anyway, I digress. Being from outside the USA, I spent a lot of time at the international exhibits, often run the by the country trade development board – e.g. the Korea, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Singapore etc.

What I saw were some very smart international entrepreneurs struggling to get much interest from the primarily US-based crowd and getting drowned out by the bigger and more accessible exhibitors. For example, The Ireland stand was directly beside the Geeks from Gangnam (Korea). Maybe it’s because the Irish are always good for having the craic, but the Irish were always packed, while Korea (otherwise known as the most wired country on the planet) was relatively quiet.



If you’re at SXSW next year and smart, you’ll get past the language barrier and seek out the international entreprenuers. For example, this year you would’ve been wowed by Amootoon (Korea) who is producing web cartoons in a variety of formats within a week, currently for free, or Nana Music (Japan) an app which allows people to co-create music or lyrics, or Gushcloud (Singapore) which is one of the many innovative ad format/networks popping up across Southeast Asia.

Fearless kudos to each of these entreprenuers, who despite challenges around timezones/language differences/focus on US domestic etc were out there building connections, partnerships and sales!

  1. Forget the detail, just get me the ImageThink!

Many were the times I wandered past the ImageThink booth and reviewed their boards from the main auditorium keynotes. Many are the times I thought ‘wow.’ I was at that session and missed those important points. Many standing around me clearly felt the same. Much like deGrasse, if everybody – in every industry – could package their story/thoughts/words as an ImageThink board, the world would be a much simpler place…

20140309_150820And let’s not forget host city Austin. My first time there – just a wonderful vibe and beautiful city to wander around. I’ll be back – hopefully for SXSW 2015, if not before…


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