Inclusion. Diversity. Culture. Experience

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.

Experience

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?

Diversity. Inclusion

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.

Culture

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?

Leadership

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.

Beating Reality: This is how we do it!

Innovation, Inclusion and Intergenerational Influence

Know the feeling? You’re washing your hands, and someone still paying his respect to the porcelain throne starts whistling “this is how you do it”. Before you know, the earworm is with you for the rest of the day.  Some kind of musical string of code profoundly interacted with your basic operating system, put a smile on your face, and made you hum –unconsciously- for the better part of 24 hours.

The first day of SXSW did not disappoint. On International Women’s Day the show was not only paying tribute to brave, tenacious, creative, amazing, inspiring, innovating and unique women everywhere. Through a multitude of presentations, tributes panels and cases the steady beating drum of total equality made the Austin Conference Center vibrate with inclusion.

Inclusion

Inclusion (/ɪnˈkluːʒ(ə)n/) is the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure. Being included. Literally being an integrated part of.  You cannot imagine water, without the H in H2O. The H and the O have total inclusion in the identity of water. Water without Oxygen is just Hydrogen. Male and female need to have total inclusion in the very fabric of society. Only then will we achieve the full potential of us as a species. Those are big words. But SXSW does not leave room for interpretation: the battle of emancipation is over. The time of glass ceilings done. The time for excuses long gone: we should not stop until everyone is fully included in what we call society. On every. Single. Layer.  Guy Kawasaki massively hammered it home: “We cannot ignore the added value of more than half of humanities combined genepool. That would be irresponsible, and plain stupid”.  (Kawasaki showed class as a moderator by flawlessly eliminating himself from the equation during the strong line up of strong women that the Mercedes Media Lounge host Stephanie Agresta had lined up. He only pointed out that he, in his early sixties, happily works at Canvas for a way younger and brilliant woman.)

Indeed, inclusion does not stop at finally achieving gender equality. If we want to have our full potential, we’ll need inclusion for the elderly, disabled and the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) on the full spectrum of personalities. Inclusion is an action word. Not only do we need to blast all barriers for inclusion into oblivion, but we need to kick everyone forward to actively go, grab, fight, explore, learn, struggle, fail, and reboot until she/he/it achieves full potential.

If we want to beat the very real challenges for tomorrow, we’ll have to tackle them as a TIS, a Total Inclusion Society.

Innovation

Stephen Hawking made us rethink disabled people from the very walls of his wheel chair. Michele Obama makes young women of color bristle with pride and empowerment.   Young girls need to get inspired by female Chief Intelligence Officers that propel our corporations and brands safely into tomorrow. Female astronauts need to pave the way to Mars and beyond. Innovation needs to be fueled and steered from all human quadrant sides, regardless of age, gender, ability, disability, religion, (a)sexuality and life choices. 

Innovation also requires to let go of reality, and invent a new one. No car without letting go the reality of horses, no space exploration without beating the hard reality of gravity, no computers without beating the limited serial processing speed of our brains.

A core of speakers are pointing out that we will not innovate with fixing what we have. We’ll innovate by inventing what we need. Sadly, a big part of our corporate reality is based on bonus and compensation systems that rewards containing the now in a no-surprise- controlled way. If we do not find ways of rewarding our most brilliant people to try, to fail, and to invent… we’re doomed.

Intergenerational Influence

We also learned at this first day of SXSW that we need to see innovation across generation, and across time. As a fervent reader of the better science fiction, I have always wondered: Do they really see the future? Or are they making up something nice in their minds that inspires somebody a few generations later in “O, that’s a cool idea, let’s make this?” Would Kennedy have commandeered the full potential of the USA (man AND women) for a decade to put a man on the moon if he had not read Jules Verne?

Did Bruce Sterling invent Augmented Reality Glasses in his steampunk novels decades ago? Or did Astro Teller, notorious captain of Google X get inspired by the book, and decided just to build it, just because he could?

Truth is, it does not matter. We need to make people of all generations, all genders dream their dream. Sooner or later, dreams do get built. That, history has proven… time and time again…

*whistles* this is how we do it…

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