There is tumbleweed rolling through the streets of Austin. Bars, music patio’s are running on near empty. BBQ joints wrap-in their smoked 7 meats platters for home-delivery. The receptionists in the impressive skyline-hotels play online poker. SXSW is very here, but very absent. It went virtual. Spooky, as the old cowboy would say.
On the metaverse and the interwebs, #SXSW2021 is thriving. Hundreds of keynotes. Star strategists and future-oriented thinkers, rock-legends, film wizards, neuroscientists, influencing gurus, spin-doctors, dreamers, astronauts, data-magicians, master marketeers and turbo-forecasters are painting their view of what the next years will bring us.
No more tech
Where a big chunk of the congress used to deal with new technologies, the launch of an application, the next world-conquering social network, the amazing 3D printing possibilities of a (n)early intelligent bot… there is none of that this year.
If you book a hotel, you never ask any more if there are clean sheets, hot water, electricity, and Wi-Fi. You unconsciously labelled that as “a given”, “normal”, “of course”. The minimum set of standards.
For SXSW, tech became exactly that: the minimum set of standards. Yes there will be tech in your future: ad-tech, bio-tech, farm-tech, fin-tech, nano-tech, space-tech, neuro-tech, data-tec, med-tech… you name it. Our future will be full of tech. Everywhere: around us, on us, in us. And none of that comes as a surprise anymore. Like fire and electricity, tech stopped to be magic. It just is. It will get better. It will get more annoying. More intruding. It will help us. It will open possibilities. It stopped to amaze us.
The focus shifted to “Experience ”. What will tech enable us to do better, quicker, smoother? How will it help building a better society? Will it finally turn poverty around? Will it impact climate change in a good way, and on time? Will it bring people together? Will it build more loyal employees, more faithful customers? Can we use tech to get less media messages, with greater relevance, to better targeted audiences, without hijacking their data?
Can we use it so that people have a better, more fluid and hybrid work-experience? Will we be able to re-build our companies around a new hybrid model where work is work, regardless of where that work is done?
Captains of industry and innovators unleashed a tidal wave of constructive thinking at #SXSW2021, urging political, societal and business leaders to rethink their very own future around “Experience”: Digital Employee eXperience, Physical consumer eXperience, Citizen and Community eXperience. Will these people succeed in turning the focus from votes, and short term shareholder value to long term engagement? Will they be able to shift from transactional thinking to establishing life time value?
Seeing Melinda Gates, George Bush, Willy Nelson, Baratunde Thurston, P&G’s Marc Pritchard, and countless others hammering in the necessity to fix the fragile social web that holds us together. To move forward, we will need to make sure we go forward together: regardless of race, religion, sexual preference or geography. The tissue of our social web is breaking. Cohesion and understanding is under tremendous pressure. Here the question is: will technology help us to unite? To give everybody the same chances, in life, at work, on a healthy future? Or will technology divide us even further, and will the gap between the haves and have-nots become bigger and bigger?
We are becoming hybrid societies by necessity: we will need all to get through: humans ànd tech, leaders and employees, brands and consumers, planet and humanity.
This will require rethinking, reshaping, rebuilding our culture. More tech-supported, data-backed, diverse, understanding, caring, healing, educating. Building around values and purpose rather than around short term shareholder value.
How do you forge culture in enterprises that are next to empty? In countries where the very fabric around food, mobility and care is being rewritten as we speak?
SXSW 2021 is very clear: we are in dare need of leadership. Not politicians, not managers: leaders. Leaders that are capable of telling the next story. Forging a culture that unites and conquers the future. Leaders that care and include. That have vision and values. That embrace human values and high-end technology.
SXSW is not about tech anymore…. It is about our future.
I wish you the best of leadership.