SXSW 2022: Songs of the Future, if there is one…

Hopefully scared. That is the atmosphere I encountered these last past pre-SXSW days. Austin Texas and its legendary SXSW festival of music, film, interactive, tech and innovation received an uppercut two years ago. Sars-CoV-2 kicked it squarely in the nuts, cancelling the show a mere couple of days before it started. It left the SXSW organizers hanging in the ropes, fighting for air, on the brink of bankruptcy. It touched the very fabric of the city. SXSW is an economic behemoth, bringing in a whopping 350 million into the area. The non-festival in 2020 and the virtual festival last year thoroughly choked the Austin area. Various SXSW dependent or reliant companies did not survive.

SXSW 2022 starts on Friday. The city just entered Code 2, which means that masks can be left at home, except for the festival premises: there, proof of vaccination, tests, and masks are obliged. Austin is happy SXSW is back… but Austin is scared. Will there be again around 200.000 people showing up? While that is perfect for the local economy, locals are also frightened: will the flux of people flying in from all over not re-ignite COVID in the county?

Hopefully scared. It defines it well. But SXSW itself focuses on the future, on new frontiers, dreamy horizons, optimistic dawns of better times. The very best of future-forward thinkers, designers of tech, wizards of data and artificial intelligence, brilliant and creative philosophers, engineers of innovation and solutions, masters of digital arts, scientists and obscure internet enhancers will deliver a couple of thousand keynotes over the coming 10 days.  

I expect an unorthodox cocktail of boundless creativity and untamed innovative technology to design me a world that hops unhindered from disruption to yet another un-normality, where the best of technology and humanity will propel us to augmented happier beings: enjoying personal and financial growth, stability as a species on a recovering planet. But then again, I am a hopelessly optimistic dreamer.

Can they just stop doing that?

The first SXSW in the post-Trump area is confronted with a president on the other side of the ocean, rolling his tanks towards Kyiv. The question that will be hovering in the halls is a simple one: even with all this brilliant thinking, can we survive the rhetoric, muscle rolling and testosterone reeking aggression of slightly balding overripe despotic maniacs? Nobody is fooled: too much toying with those nuclear codes, and there might not be a future after all. At All.

Resized thinking

24 months of home, hybrid and different working have set different habits firmly in place. It showed our human vulnerability to something as small and insignificant as a virus. We can lose all we have, all we are in a couple of weeks. Silicon is getting scarce, ingredients and supplies less readily available. We’re running out of rare minerals, of forests, of clean water, of icecaps, of gletsjers, of precious metals, of time, of human connections. There were fights on parking lots over toilet paper, distribution systems are touching their limits; goods are blocked by wars, by ships in canals, by shut-down economies, by white-van men stuck in traffic. We will have to resize, rethink, re-normal  and re-calibrate our future if we want to have one. Convenience came at a price, we’ll need to switch to a more measured, resized approach. Human and nature positiveness will carry the new ecosystem. A new deal, a new social contract.

Outside of the box? There is no box!

We’re often in awe when people and brands seem to defy the very laws of logic. Amazon seems to create a complete global economy on its own, Elon Musk single-handedly can save  the International Space Station from spiraling into a Russian induced premature death while diverting a couple of hundred satellites over Ukraine so that the resistant forced can benefit from Internet.

Bruce Sterling said it years ago, in the battle of the stacks: the future is kind for those that break the walls of the cardboard boxes, that scatter the rules, that dare to venture in unconventional combinative thinking.  Breaking the code, re-inventing the wheel, challenging the status quo: that is the recipe for most of the winning disruption.

It’s not a wild destructive game however: it’s bold strategies, based on certifiable trends, iron intelligence, bullet proof data. Combining consumer insights with business smarts and new technology platforms.  Working today on what is needed tomorrow. Yesterday’s  thinking will not answer tomorrow’s needs. Carefully combining and blurring the lines between various disciplines and approaches into a holistic mindset proves to be a winning cocktail.

Meta this, Meta that

Of course, the Metaverse, the Tokens, the NFT’s are all over Austin.  There are even POP’s (Proof of Presence), little virtual things that prove that you’ve been part of something. The Metaverse is gaining speed, interest, and breaks out of the gaming niche. The inventor of the Metaverse, Neal Stephenson (author of Snow Crash) on the SXSW centre stage this week will put everything back in perspective: it is about much more than Facebook’s end-game… if the Metaverse is just a quarter of a percentage as cultural changing as in his book, we’re in for some serious Rock ‘and Roll…

Authenticity and Total Experience

Women rights, Black Lives Matter, taking sexuality out of a binary system, children’s rights, values and purpose… it will be all over #SXSW, and rightly so. There is a vogue of new ethical standards that is rolled out through groundswell.  The will of the people against the lines of conventionality. Authenticity will win. It always does.

The total experience: as a human, a parent, a citizen, a worker, a partner will be based on shared value sets, in well-being in all of its ingredients, in supporting technologies, in enabling tech, in a setting that is comforting, but challenging. People are setting out new and fundamentally different life goals.

The future of brands will be to those who listen to the tiniest vibrations of that desire, and act accordingly. The future is less personal, it is mostly shared.

SXSW 2022, let the games begin… I’m ready

Constant A-normality. Balance is out, progress is in.

SXSW is tiring. An avalanche of insights, keynotes, business smarts, discoveries and things to think over. And Over. And again. After one week of SXSW, my neurons generate enough energized heat to propel a kilogram of vegetable pie in an orbit around Saturn. Now it’s time to let the dust settle down, to decant the wine, to take some distance. Not every shiny thing is a new diamond… and some pearls might still be hidden in the muddy waters…

Still, there is a lot to think about:

There will be no New Normal

Rest assured. The old normal is gone, and if you wait for the New Normal, you’re waiting for Godot. Change is here to stay. It’s so omnipresent that it became constant. It’s everywhere, and it is accelerating. It’s a giant snowball, gathering momentum, fuelled by tech, by data, by rapid learning, processing speed, quantum computing, and 5G. It’s spreading on, in and around the planet. It eyes the Moon and Mars. It is re-shuffling cities, schools, companies and countries. It blazes through energy, mobility, sociology, education, healthcare, anthropology, biology, nano-technology…

It’s about ethical living and working, while preserving the planet, enhancing well-being, and making a comfortable profit. Nothing normal about that.

The future is about experience

While tech and data are omnipresent (and soon omni-scient?),  they are gently regressing to the background. Tech is here, is here to stay and it is giving us a giant boost. Like electricity, water and WiFi it just is. How to use this tech for good, for better; that is the gazillion dollar question impacting soon 8 billion people. The future is not about tech. It will be with tech. How to create better living, learning, progress, working, caring and prospering are the questions on everyone’s minds today.  The future is about experience. About uniting. About sharing. About collaborating. About re-inventing. About having the courage to change. Going for a better experience. About becoming “better humans”: a giant challenge ahead.

(D)EX

Companies and organisations -and their workforce- are scrambling and re-inventing the workplace. The workplace will most probably a hybrid construction, where “where” and “when” work is done is less important than how its done. A business fundamental that shifts from a performance culture around cold KPI’s and being “present” to a collaborative culture on OKPI’s that are based on quality and pertinence. The (Digital) Employee Experience is re-shuffling the very fabric most businesses are build on. Organisations see that there real capital, their “liquid gold” are the people working for and with them. The term “human capital” was coined years ago, but is now more real than ever. If businesses have less and less walls, less and less real estate, less and less brick-and mortar presence, the real ambassadors are the people, on all levels. Culture and shared values are reliable ingredients for this new “mayonnaise”. Business Gatherings  are the future for endless meetings: to meet to make a difference, to make an impact; rather than giving endless sit-reps.

CEX

Consumers are making their choices on experience to: seamless shopping, contactless paying, phygital set-ups, mobile and social shopping. On demand delivery. Painless paying.  Those are the essential ingredients.  But, they are not only looking at what a brand offers. They are interested in why a brand matters. They are hawk-eying the values and business purpose of the brands they want to associate themselves with. They are not content with a vague Value Proposition on a website anymore: they want Proof. Action. With great power, comes great responsibility. The total impact of a company, a brand, and organisation has a massive impact on the perceived Consumer/Brand/Experience. Lies and inconsistencies will be pointed out.

The Future is about values,  and choices

So it comes down to making the right choices. Where, when and how to work. How to re-invent the workplace, the city, mobility, education. How to make the magic of inclusion work at all levels? How to let ethics co-exist with making a profit? How to gave more people chances without ruining our environment? How to take care of our children? Our elderly people? Fragile minorities? Our ecosystem? Will we be able to open the dialogue on all levels? Dare to really assess and change?

The Future is looking for the right leaders

Above all, SXSW showed that the very beginning of the next journey will not be about tech. It will be around leaders and leaderships. Navigators that show the way, while challenging the status-quo. That are keen and able to keep what is good, while opening up to new opportunities and possibilities. That constructs the future around human well-being, with respect for the planet, while making a healthy profit. Just making your numbers will no longer get you on the winning team any more.

Open, respectful, bidirectional and transparent communication will be the very backbone for this evolving society. Exciting times for us story-tellers, master-marketeers and magic-media wizards. Our trade will be in the middle of the action.

Will we be good enough to take Excalibur out of the Stone?

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