20th May 13
As a product of the first dotcom boom in the mid-nineties I have always been digitally minded. I found my way to advertising through a decade of working in some of the finest interactive studios. More so than ever those two worlds have collided. Earlier this year I set out to write a book that took some of that learning and the mindset of working as a creative in a digital world.
The format of the book took on the look and feel a children’s book for learning the alphabet, with each letter referencing a way of thinking or an insight into the modern creative process. The book was lovingly illustrated by 26 of the industry’s best, and to introduced the book, I asked a simple question of five of advertising’s top creative minds. What does it mean to be a contemporary creative in today’s modern world of advertising? Below are three of the responses I received, the remaining responses can be found by reading the book itself.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” What does it mean to be a creative these days? It’s almost impossible to answer this. The tasks of a creative are unrecognisable from as little as five years ago. You must decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Certainly the days of easy three week shoots in the Caribbean are long gone. But when has an advertising creative ever had the chance to make a physical product from scratch? To really make something? Some would argue clients have never been more conservative but some guy just fell from space for a can of pop with no guarantee that his brains wouldn’t splatter across a million screens. It seems it’s wise to be foolish. One thing a creative does need to be is a hustler. There are no easy briefs any more. You have to fight for the crazy stuff. But I honestly believe in a more uniform and conservative world weird stands out, weird – like ‘Greed’ – works. Look at GaGa. When the going gets weird the weird turn pro. Is that what we are, professional weirdos? I can live with that. - James Cooper
“Creativity” is a loaded word – like “war” or “god” or “child.” It has a lot in common with these words too – for it’s a mix of heavy burden and a blinding belief in our own potential to invent. “Creative” is too often reserved for people who are quirky, strange, tattooed and/or mustachioed. But in truth, everyone is creative with the way they solve the needs of the contemporary world – be they juggling numbers, whittling a good spear, or even in the conjuring of creative design and advertising. What we’re talking about here is indeed creativity in the visual, interactive and social-psychological senses. The Contemporary Creative has the ability to excite all of these with ease, telling stories and inciting action. Those before us molded clay, steel, and wood, but we flex our power with pixels and clicks, flash frames and light, code strings and sensors. We are manipulators – hopefully for good. The one trick pony creative no longer exists; instant death comes to those with narrow-minds, parochial interests or inflexibility. Inquisitiveness, fearlessness and an insatiable thirst for The New are the only real mandates for today’s creative minds. So feed your inner child. Create something from nothing. It’s a war of the senses. - David Schwarz
You can’t be of your time creatively if you’re behind in how you can express it. Nice sound bite, that. And like most sound bites, half true, half full of shit. Why it’s half shit: you can be and do whatever you want creatively. There is absolutely no right or wrong, just expression or no expression. That’s the goddamn beauty of it. Why it’s half true? If you want to have an impact, to have other people see or hear or experience your creativity, it’s a good idea to understand the times you’re living in, the mediums and formats are resonating with people – and understand the tools are available to bring your expressions to life. Know those, and all that creativity inside has a chance to be seen, experienced, and shared. Which makes you a creative person of your time, a ‘contemporary creative’ so to speak. - John Patroulis
The printed version of the book is set to be released on June 6th, however in the spirit of the open Web, I have published the book in it’s entirety as a tumblr blog. You can scroll through it contents at this url: abcbook.tumblr.com
1st May 13
Posted in strategyAuthor: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH LondonThis is an edited version of a piece I wrote a while back for the APG. Reprinted with permission.It is a melancholy truth that the more expert I have become, the less my expertise is valued. I recognise that this may be because my dusty tales of Levi’s watchpockets,strategic chords and yin yangs lose a little of their lustre with every passing year. And I suspect I’m not pronouncing SXSW with convincing emphasis. But it may also be because Clients no longer come to me for expertise. Or at least not the expertise I imagined I had to offer.I had always thought that we Planners were akin to strategic doctors. We assessed the patients’ symptoms, we prescribed treatment, we arrived at prognoses. I imagined that sitting in four reviews a day, year after year, gave us a special authority on the anatomy of communication. I’m sure there was a time when my Clients nodded gratefully as we offered sage counsel. The blinding insight, the lyrical proposition, the Damascene conversion…There was, wasn’t there?… But modern Clients are more strategically and creatively confident than ever before. They have their own strategy departments, they’re closer to their own data, they work across more channels than most of us.They go on creative role reversal courses…I’m really not sure they come to us primarily to listen to our opinion. And I have to say sometimes nowadays it’s difficult getting a word in edgeways.It’s true, I have considered an alternative career as a bus conductor. And when the 25 year old Millward Brown consultant’s opinion carries more weight, I find myself yearning for a passing Routemaster. But advertising people are inherently positive. And so I reconsider…I am increasingly of the view that Clients don’t come to us for medicine; they come to us for therapy. And I suspect that our value resides, not as strategic doctors, but as strategic psychoanalysts.Often a successful modern Client engagement is not unlike a session of analysis. Clients begin with problems. They verbalise their thoughts, they make free associations, they express their fantasies and dreams. We listen, we interpret, we consider the unconscious conflicts that are causing their problems. We help them reach solutions through a process of self realisation.Freud, in addressing the unconscious, talked about the need to ‘unearth buried cities’. This doesn’t sound too alien to brand planning.I should at this point issue a health warning. I’m a Planner from Romford. Whilst I enjoyed Keira Knightley’s performance in A Dangerous Method, I can’t claim any particular knowledge of psychoanalysis . For me it’s just an illuminating analogy. Besides, if we were too literal about this, we’d never look a Client in the eye. And I suspect that’s a sure fire way to lose business…Let us nonetheless consider some of the basic principles that would derive from a psychoanalytic approach to Client engagement…Set out on a quest for meaning, not cure. The answers to most problems reside in the minds of the Client. We are enabling self knowledge,helping them to create their own narratives.Behave as a participant observer, not a detached expert. Analysis only works if we embark on it together, as willing equals.Embrace free association. Often we are too quick to impose order on our Clients’ challenges. Bear in mind that fantasies and dreams can illuminate unconscious conflicts.Remember, everything has meaning. Be attentive to behaviour,body language, choice of words and phrases.Look for meaningful patterns. Consider consistencies,
symmetries,repetition. Probe for the meaning within the pattern.Our time is up..I used to believe there was only one correct answer to every problem. Now I believe there are many correct answers. The challenge is to establish the correct answer that best suits the Client’s character and personality. Anais Nin famously once said: ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are’. I’m sure this maxim applies as much to strategy as it does to creative.
26th April 13
Author: Ben Fennell, CEO, BBH London
As I write, we’ve just completed a six month, ‘in house’ course on Leadership for 30 of BBH’s finest. The course is a tangible acknowledgement that leadership skills are not simply ‘picked up’ over time. But that they have to be developed, they have to be taught, they have to be learnt.
Throughout my career I’ve been a keen student. I’ve always tried to observe, emulate and customise the leadership behaviours I most admire. From mentors, from clients, from within BBH, from history, politics and sport.
There are a couple of interesting things about our course:
- It is totally bespoke to BBH, by that I mean it is focused on developing the skills and tools to succeed in our culture.
- It is cross discipline, so in attendance are strategists, suits, producers, and those historically reluctant trainees, CDs.
- It is personal, because leadership always is. I invited the 16 speakers, 13 BBH and 3 clients, to talk about the leadership attribute that I most associate them with, eg ‘making good and bad decisions’, ‘leadership in tough times’, ‘creating positive pressure’.
- Having been exposed to a whole series of very personal, and very diverse leadership orthodoxies, one has come out head and shoulders above all others.
The power of difference. All the delegates have told me that a better understanding of their own unique strengths, and a strategy to amplify those, is the key to creating higher impact, and greater followership in the workplace.
Despite almost all of the delegates’ pre course perceptions to the contrary, they have found that BBH is packed with a range of very different types of leaders.
I think this has probably always been the case at BBH. It was the complimentary differences in personality type, style and delivery that made our founders John, Nigel and John such a compelling cocktail.
It is interesting to me that, somehow, as we’ve grown, people have started to believe that there is only one way to lead and succeed at BBH, one leadership archetype: competitive, quality obsessed and, yes, relentlessly dissatisfied.
People like myself may well have propagated that myth. Which is ironic, because I know exactly how much I depend on the difference offered to me by my closest partners. Leaders with any sense of self awareness learn quickly to assemble a team that complements their strengths and compensates for their weaknesses.
One simple example. I think in metaphors and references from sport and film while Jim Carroll, our UK Chairman, uses renaissance art and soul music. I want our people to be exposed to both, and a hundred more besides.
Jim spoke at my 40th, he stood in front of 100 people, only 10 of whom he knew and who knew him. It would be fair to say that it was a fairly rowdy and sporty crowd. He won over his audience, and nailed me with his opening line:
“Ben and I share not one personality trait”. Genius.
And that’s the point. I want our company to be filled with all kinds of different leaders: visionaries, operators, closers, nurturers, warriors, enthusiasts, rocks.
It’s the celebration of difference that makes a culture powerful and unique. It is the managed tension between different types of thinkers and personalities, that gets us to our best answers. I urge every new joiner to “keep their edges”.
I think it was Warren G Bennis that famously said that “Failing organisations are usually over managed and under led.”At BBH we want more leadership, in all its forms, at every level of our company.
I am always energised when I face the company and see a whole new cohort coming through.
I wonder if the next great horizon for our business should be less defined by our outputs: digital, social, CSR. And more by our inputs. By developing a generation of industry leaders to inspire staff, clients, and most important of all, the consumer.
The longer I do my job the more I believe that ‘Inspiration’ is the petrol you put into the tank of a creative business. It’s our fuel. It is leadership’s most fundamental obligation.
Of one thing I am certain. You can’t possibly inspire others unless you are 100 percent clear about the single question we started, and have focused, our whole course on:
‘What kind of leader do you want to be?’
23rd April 13
Posted in Creativityforgood
Today you might notice we have added something new to the blog. A tiny little detail that has the ability to make a much larger impact.
At the bottom of this post and in fact at the bottom of every post, you will find the newly added CentUp button. If you remember we first spoke to Len Kendall about CentUp in an post earlier this year. CentUp encourages us all to donate to content creators and charities at the click of a button.
In short CentUp is here to help make the Internet a better place. So, if you are reading something you like here and you appreciate the content we provide, consider giving the CentUp button a click, and make a change for good. CentUp is in beta at the moment, but BBH Labs readers can request a fast-track invitation by clicking on this link. And lastly, all proceeds from CentUp donations on this blog will benefit charities that are dear to our hearts.
12th April 13
Author: Sam Jesse (@sam_jesse), Strategist, BBH NY.
It’s hard to believe the Barn is turning four this summer. During its short existence, the Barn and its interns have had some big moments. From the very first project to receive national attention (http://datingbrian.com/) to another which won two Lions at Cannes (http://underheardinnewyork.com/), the Barn keeps moving onward and upward. We even expanded beyond our borders as the global BBH family embraced the Barn, leading to inspiring work from intern teams in London (http://keepaaroncutting.blogspot.com/) and Singapore (http://www.madebymigrants.com/). And now, BBH New York is looking for the next wave of interns ready to make some noise in the summer of 2013.
This isn’t your typical advertising internship, so we aren’t looking for your typical advertising candidates. We want the mavericks, the ones who would rather do amazing things than talk about them, those who can see the future and make it happen. We especially want the ones who think and create in tech and code. Know how to code a site in html5? Know how to build an app for iOS? Know how to bring a film to life in Final Cut Pro? Great. If not, don’t worry. We want the resourceful ones too. The ones who will learn new skills on the fly in order to get the job done. The Barn is designed to empower these kinds of people. There will be plenty of rolling with the punches along the way.
Now, on to the details. The Barn internship program accepts six students or recent graduates every summer. Interns are split into two teams of three, which are then briefed on the same assignment. Over the next 10 weeks, each team develops a unique idea and brings it to life to answer the brief with a budget of $1000. Both teams will have full access to BBH talent and will be working on client business throughout, so it will be a busy summer. The goal for each team member is to end the program walking away with tangible public-facing work to showcase in their portfolio.
28th March 13
Posted in reads
(Massive Printer, film by Newspaper Club)
Yes, we snack, we graze, we nibble, we heartily partake of the morsels, the canapés of content offered our way on the trays of twitter, google reader (sob) and flipboard. But sometimes it’s nice to loosen our belts, turn off the stream and get stuck into a something a little more filling. So, here are some of the longer reads that have sated our appetites recently, instapapered for your mobile reading pleasure.
““I felt a disturbance in the Force, as if millions of geeks were shocked in an instant,” tweeted one ecstatic fan boy the day the news broke. It was a common refrain. The fans, too, had watched what happened when Disney bought Pixar and Marvel and many felt that the company could be trusted with R2-D2 and Princess Leia. “Their handling of the Marvel properties has given them a lot of geek cred,” says Swank, the RebelForce Radio co-host.”
“Cities, he [Geoffrey West] points out, are physical manifestations of human interactions. The data reveal those social dynamics, but do not necessarily shape them. From Lagos to Los Angeles to Mumbai, the physical world is experiencing a great rushing tide of urbanization, which creates huge environmental problems and at the same time concentrates the creativity needed to solve them. In the Sims’ world, though, the masses migrate and settle, then file passively through their lives. SimCity’s engineers have repeated the same mistake made by countless potentates, forgetting that cities are forged both by master builders and the people who hack their grand plans.”
“At the beginning of a sunny Monday morning earlier this month, I had never cracked a password. By the end of the day, I had cracked 8,000. Even though I knew password cracking was easy, I didn’t know it was ridiculously easy—well, ridiculously easy once I overcame the urge to bash my laptop with a sledgehammer and finally figured out what I was doing.”
“The diamond invention is far more than a monopoly for fixing diamond prices; it is a mechanism for converting tiny crystals of carbon into universally recognized tokens of wealth, power, and romance. To achieve this goal, De Beers had to control demand as well as supply. Both women and men had to be made to perceive diamonds not as marketable precious stones but as an inseparable part of courtship and married life. To stabilize the market, De Beers had to endow these stones with a sentiment that would inhibit the public from ever reselling them. The illusion had to be created that diamonds were forever — “forever” in the sense that they should never be resold.“
“Google Glass is a snazzy set of specs that will part the Red Sea if you tap it from the right angle. It aims to fuse smartphones and computers into a hands-free user experience more pleasurable than sex, religion, and world domination combined.“
And finally, a transcript of a story conference between Lawrence Kadsan, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, on Raiders of the Lost Ark!
“At some point in the movie he must use it [a bullwhip] to get a girl back who’s walking out of the room. Wrap her up and she twirls as he pulls her back. She spins into his arms. You have to use it for more things than just saving himself.“
Let us know in the comments if there are any other choice meals to add to the menu. Bon Appetit.
28th March 13
Author: Jim Carroll, Chairman, BBH London
Why assign your own name to a brand? What drives the founders of eponymous brands? What lies behind the success of the successful?
These are questions addressed by Branded Gentry, an engaging new book by Charles Vallance and David Hopper. The book comprises a series of interviews with people who ‘made their name by making their name into a brand’. The likes of Johnnie Boden, the founder of the casual clothing company, James Dyson of the innovative household appliance brand, Jonathan Warburton of the baking dynasty, and our own John Hegarty.
I found it a refreshing read. Conventional business books encourage us to think of commercial success in terms akin to scientific case studies. We isolate key learnings, critical success factors, best demonstrated practice. We are introduced to models, mantras and metaphors. We are given a picture of achievement which is ordered, constructed,
Branded Gentry invites us to consider the psychology of the founders of successful brands. Their relationship with their parents, the view from their childhood bedroom, the emotional milestones that mark out their career. Each chapter is a character study, an elegant pen portrait of often charismatic, compelling individuals. Consequently it paints a picture of success that is disordered, spontaneous,
instinctive. And of business that is personal, passionate, human.
The decision to give one’s own name to a brand is significant. If brands are fundamentally about trust, then a brand that carries a founder’s name has a particular sense of integrity. The tag-line of Warburton’s bread is: ‘We care because our name’s on it.’ And as Boden puts it, ‘If you don’t believe in your name, how can you expect other people to give you money?’
Inevitably perhaps, there is a consistent theme of ‘failing forwards’. Tripping up on the way to success, maybe being humbled by mistakes, but also seeing in them learning and experience. The eponymous brand owners come across as enthusiasts. They’re often breezily confident and positive about life. Many of them seem more emotional than you might expect, more active listeners.
But there’s also a dark undertow. A wariness of good fortune, a suspicion that bad times may be round the corner, a fear of debt (which many of them have experienced). The Branded Gentry are restless souls. Listen to James Dyson: ‘I’m not satisfied; I’m still not satisfied. The moment you’ve done something, then you’re onto the next thing, which is full of new problems you’ve got to solve …It’s a life of failure and dissatisfaction whatever your private wealth’. Or as the potter, Emma Bridgewater, puts it: ‘The trouble with being an entrepreneur is that you never think you’ve finished. You’re always thinking of things you haven’t done… I’ve got a lot of parallel lives unlived, but you suddenly realise it’s probably not going to happen. It’s the inherent sadness of ageing.’
I guess I had imagined that success came easily to the successful; that they had had a leg-up from life, a helping hand to get them started. In fact I was rather struck by the fact that, whilst some of these entrepreneurs were born into material wealth, most of them had rather tough childhoods.The broken home, the unsympathetic father, the parents that passed away before their time. Illness and ill fortune seem never too far away. (Dyson points out that over 80% of British Prime Ministers lost a parent before the age of 10, compared to only 1.5% of the general population.)
I grew up committed to a clear separation between work and life beyond it. Of course in the modern age it’s increasingly difficult to sustain the divide. For these Branded Gentry life is work and the eponymous business is fundamentally an expression of self. According to Dyson, ‘I had developed a latent desire to make things around me better and that desire was the very part of whom I was.’ The authors conclude that their subjects ‘didn’t go out into the world to fit in with it. One way or another, they set out to make the world fit them.’
Branded Gentry is very well written. There is a commendable amount of descriptive detail and direct speech. One often feels one is in the room with the interviewee, observing his or her furniture, inflections,
physiognomy. I welcome the book’s commitment that business is about people not just processes, passions not just practices. For Vallance and Hopper the personal is professional.
26th March 13
Author: Alex Matthews, Head of Creative Technology, BBH London
As a tech boy I am always less interested in marketing per se than I am in marketing through services – solving problems and creating something useful – and this is what I was hoping to find on my first visit to SXSW. Initially though I found myself in a Comedy in Technology talk where the little fella above did five minutes of standup – he’s been created as part of the drive to make robots more human, using comedy as a barometer for their humanness – pretty impressive, but still some work to do.
The Beyond Mobile talk was a great example of what I hope is a trend towards a “less is more” mentality, suggesting we need to stop making everything ‘smart’ and instead have one or two smart devices and create many interfaces into them. Also suggesting that devices need to get ‘dumber’ is right up my street. The best solutions are not always the ones that add a million buttons and an Android OS to your microwave – instead just make your microwave remember the time after a power outage (after all, for 99% of the time we only use out microwaves as a clock).
In the same vein was a talk by Golden Krishna (who recently joined Samsung) about his premise that The best interface is no interface. In his paper he discusses the 13 steps that are demanded by car-door unlocking apps now coming to market. Is this really a more efficient system than a key? Or a better system than the non-app solution developed by Mercedes ten years ago?
The Robot in your pocket: AI powered applications talk from Gravity‘s Amit Kapur and Xobni‘s Jeff Bonforte also ran on a similar theme (and is well worth listening to here). Phones have 14 sensors typically – all of this data is available to us and to developers and yet we are still not using it to its full potential. For example, asking Siri to “call Chris” pulls up a list of the Chris’s in your address book. With your behavioural data at its disposal, surely Apple should know that most evenings at 6pm the Chris I call is Chris Smith as I try and organise a quick beer after work?
Although there were quite a few relatively pointless apps on the trade stands I must big up one app that I found – Speakerfy – it allows you to simultaneously and synchronously play a song from your phone or laptop to multiple devices that also have the app. Basically, it creates a multi-speaker system on your and your friend’s phones. It’s going to make bus journeys with school kids even more noisy I’m sure.
Finally, I have to mention the Google Glass presentation in which they live-demoed Glass and launched their Mirror API. The API seems quite open, simple and developer friendly using all the usual standard technologies, though they’re not sure yet how people are going to subscribe to apps for their Glass headset. Aside from the big question which is “will any normal person actually want to wear these?” and the fact that we’re all already entrenched in a behaviour pattern of checking updates on our phones, the demos they gave (New York Times, email, photo, sharing etc) were not all that amazing.
Personally, I think Google is in a limbo state with Glass at the moment – they’re getting people interested, providing APIs but there’s no way for the masses to try out Glass, which does leave that “will anyone really do this” question rather open. There’s a lot of talk and hype from futurology types about Glass, but I’m not convinced they’re going to change the world overnight – going back to my original points, you have to ask the question “what is the business or user problem that Glass is trying to solve?”.
19th March 13
The second of series of reports from Austin, by a few lucky BBH SXSW survivors.
Author: Helen Lawrence, Strategist, BBH Labs & BBH London
The most recurring topic of conversation in Austin during SXSW isn’t the future of technology, it isn’t the principles of responsive design and it certainly isn’t what makes something viral. It’s meat. What meat to have in your breakfast taco, what meat to choose for your lunchtime ribs and what meat should top your dinnertime hot dog (I can’t believe Tim didn’t mention this in his SXSW reflections!). This is a town dominated by BBQ joints and smoking shacks. I fear that after five days there I may have the incredibly sexy combination of scurvy and gout:
However, we have a problem. One hundred thousand years ago humans still needed 2000 calories a day to function. Back then, to produce that 2000 calories we’d get through 1800 to find and produce something to nibble on. Fast forward to today’s brisket loving era and it takes 200,000 calories to produce those same 2000 calories. Our food production habits are screwed up. We waste everything: energy, resources and it even the food itself once we’ve got it to that juicy, edible point. It’s not at all sustainable. We’re messing it up, and we’re doing it quickly.
So – who is the obvious person to turn to in order to solve this problem? An astronaut of course. Nothing beats an astronaut. Ahem.
The 100 Year Starship project is using the question of interstellar space travel to get to an answer:
“We exist to make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years. We unreservedly dedicate ourselves to identifying and pushing the radical leaps in knowledge and technology needed to achieve interstellar flight, while pioneering and transforming breakthrough applications that enhance the quality of life for all on Earth.”
If we’re going to have to consider exploration outside of our solar system we’re going to have think a little beyond a simply bigger rocket. One self sustaining pod hurtling through the sky; it has to keep a bunch of humans alive for a century, stop them killing each other and prevent them from getting hungry.
The space race in the 60s was a tangible one: getting to the moon is a challenge that could be imagined and solved. The 100 Year Starship Project wants to set a challenge that trickles down solutions into our own fuzzy planet in the same way. The space race has given us some of the biggest everyday technologies we use now: scratch resistant lenses, GPS and water filters for example. By posing some of the biggest societal and sustainability questions out there and considering how we’d achieve them to last 100 years in space, we can hope for properly realistic solutions to the things we’re messing up at the moment.
Meat is a big one, clothes are another. It’s a terribly energy intensive hobby. We make too many, we own too many, we wash too many and we don’t recycle nearly enough. 100 years at our current clothing rates would need a lot of wardrobes up on our space ship, not to mention cotton fields, plastics factories and silk worms. We can’t take clothes to space, despite them being such a core part of our creative identity as humans – one solution put forward by the 100 Year Starship project includes reusable sheets that we project clothes onto, allowing us to change them whenever we like.
Back to the bovines. As much as I love the idea of cows in space, wearing little cow shaped astronaut helmets, it just can’t happen. ‘Fake meat’ companies are popping up all over the place, even Twitter co founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams are investing. That’s one possible solution for our 100 Year Spaceship. What else is there?
I like the 100 Year Starship project. It frames a problem into a great story. Mae Jemison, a brilliant astronaut, told the SXSW audience that we should tell better stories, ones that inspire and ones that can bring about social change. The project neatly frames sustainability into something we can picture. There are no cheats when you’re somewhere outside of Alpha Centauri. So many of our so called sustainable solutions aren’t that at all. We feel we’re doing well when actually the problem is just popping up somewhere else. You can’t do that on a spaceship.
This makes me ruminate a bit on brand strategy – we talk a lot here about strategy being the art of sacrifice. What would you sacrifice in your brand armoury if forced to focus on the essentials? And would your brand get a spot on the starship in the first place? Is it ducking and diving, pushing superfluous issues elsewhere? Perhaps not being quite as sustainable or transparent as it could be? Whack it in a bubble and put it in space: it’s a good way to test it.
I’m excited about the 100 Year Spaceship. The hippies and the astronauts are getting it on. And damn, it’s even sexier than gout.
15th March 13
Having spent nearly a decade as a judge, panelist, or an attendee at SXSW I have witnessed massive sweeping changes in the size, scope, and tone of this festival.
My earliest experiences at South by Southwest were fueled by conversations with futurists, digital pioneers, and creative folks exploring a new medium. The festival was small, unknown, and very personal. It stayed that way, and became the annual vehicle for meeting up with the community in real life. It was where we could hear what everyone was thinking, doing, and more importantly what they were feeling. It was about those people and how they were helping shape the Web.
A few short years later the advertising agencies began to take note of SXSW and began attending in force. The first wave was of course the recruiters, hungry for “Digital Talent”. The next wave was comprised of creative, planners, strategists, and account people. There were agency parties, panels, and booths. The festival became too large to curate by a group of people who for the last few years were all on a first name basis. Enter the “Panel Picker”.
There is of course something admirable to be said about allowing the public to decide upon the content of next year’s festival, however the “public” had shifted from this group of connected people helping to shape the Web to a network of agencies, corporations, top-tier brands, and holding corps. This without doubt, was going to impact the tone of the festival. And it did.
SXSW panel content began to drift away from personal reflections of the past year and projections of the years to come. They became a platform for agencies and brands to build a presence within the interactive community. A large percentage of the conversations became pitches and the passionate thinking about the future went silent.
This year felt different. There was a visible shift. This year there was another generation emerging from within the festival. The maker’s movement had arrived and they took on many forms. Elon Musk gave an extremely illuminating talk. There were 3D scanners and printers that created our century’s first glimpse at the idea of teleportation. There were also production shops like Deep Local best know for Nike’s Chalk bot talking about the path of his company from Punk Rock to CEO. There was definitely a something new in the air. The festival subconsciously rebooted and began focusing on the future again.
“No one wants PCs” – Bruce Sterling
This year during Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks, he made clear the circle of life in technology. For every innovation and advancement we embrace, the previous piece of technology it replaces dies. He explained the importance of recognizing and owning that. Bruce also went on to talk about focusing on the people behind the tech, and the importance of the thinkers and makers vs. the end product. It was during this talk that made the turning point evident. We need to embrace the idea of making, but making in such a way that we were aware of what we are replacing. The only constants in the equation are the individuals behind the advancements.
The festival left me thinking that next year would mark a return to that original “futurist spirit”. Sure there will be a huge brand presence, but the content, the core of the SXSW will once again be about the future through the lens of technology and more importantly through the voices of those leading the charge.