Here is to the return of normalcy: there will be no new normal.

It is so good to see the thousands of SXSW’ers in the streets of Austin. Austin, one of my favorite cities in the world. When COVID19 struck the city, in 2019, cancelling the convention, I could feel its pain. Bizarrely, and without noticing, that pain nestled deeper than I cared to admit. Being back in the Texan sun, has weaponed me with a bigger smile,  more energy and a revived optimism. Being cut off flying, traveling, human beings, hugs, diners, long conversations, heated debates for 24 months taxed me a lot. Most of the people I’m meeting at SXSW have the same feeling. A feeling of liberation. Of setting the mind free. Of turning the COVID19 page.

The busy humming of conference-goers from around the world  in the convention hall, in the streets, in front of the food trucks, in  elevators en restaurants marks the return to a normalcy, a re-start. A launch.

Everybody is back. The keynotes are defiant, future-building, stern lessons are taken from the past. New trends are carving themselves out of the thick pack of keynotes: the great resignation.  Purpose driven business models. Corporate value-sets. Employer branding. Hybrid working. Decentralized management structures. Renewed mobility. Honeycomb-structured consultancy. Accelerated digitization and automation. Artificial and deep-learning finally making a practical difference. The power of social connections, of ambassador-based influence, of quantum computing. The move towards platform-everything, towards API driven consolidations. The hunger for more, better, faster data. The craving for adequate data-analyses, real time visualization. Digital transformation. Augmented Humanity. The focus on experience, on participation, co-construction and groundswell. The need for clarity, honesty, sincerity, bravery, energy and a healthy touch of magic. The need to accelerate, with a build-in necessity to take the time to take time to reflect.

Everybody is back, but it is not a back to normal. It will never be.  The ever-present typically SXSW pulsing is here. It is clear, personal, deep and profound. It celebrates digital, but it brings back a golden nugget: the mysterious power of in person  gathering.

Austin’s South by Southwest has returned its Texas mega-conference covering tech, innovation, society, music and the wider culture to a leading and stellar level. Among the top innovative trends this year are the future of work, the future of democracy, the future of communications and media, climate change, Web3 , the decentralized web,  freedom – of opinion and speech-, fake news, cybersecurity, crypto driven finances and art and -what else- the Metaverse.

SXSW’s 35th anniversary comes against a sobering reality of a pandemic entering its third year;  a worrying intellectual, factual, economical and spiritual combative polarization and  an aggressive conflict in the very heart of Eastern Europe. It brings, in pure Star Wars style “A New Hope”. Life is back, is live, and is more antagonistic than ever.  Bruce Sterling voiced it so well: all the set-back makes us stronger, different, more resilient, more creative and more hopeful.

Meta’s Facebook and its iconic CEO Mark Zuckerberg were probably the most resented topics of SXSW. The liberal thinkers do not take the tremendous -negative- influence of the online influence gargantuan lightly. The powerful echo chambers, the fake news, the self-enriching logarithmic manipulations are more than frowned upon.

Mark Zuckerberg showed courage and brass balls by confronting the audience 14 years after his first -very hesitant- appearance at SXSW. He explained the how and why of the Metaverse and Web3. It is clear that Zuckerberg is looking to re-ignite and expand Meta -formerly known as Facebook- into a thorough acceleration into the mysterious worlds of augmented, virtual and reality.

For Zuckerberg, the “metaverse,” is  “next generation of internet.” He sees it as another  social platforms where people can meet for professional, personal and entertainment. The very set-up of the Metaverse will enable a plethora of experiences, centered around the immersive, even haptic nature of the platform.

He sees it as his leadership duty to double down on what he identified as the future of the multi-billion company rather than stick to todays reality. Metaverse is the extension of reality into the digital world. A world that is -let’s face it- any bit as real as the real world. We will need to rethink our sense of normalcy and reality. As a species, as an economy, as a society we became -accelerated by COVID19- truly hybrid, living in a dual world with challenging,  new, but exciting  dynamics.

I think that at some level, the future sort of belongs to people who believe in it more than others,” he said. That rings a bell.

Typing this note, under the light of a mysterious moon, overlooking the soothing waters of Lake Travis, I have a smile on my face.

I am a believer.

Lab-grown chicken wings will not save us from Global Warming and kind volcanoes grow islands…

Well there I was, like a kid in a candy store, sipping a cold beverage, and talking with Bruce Sterling… for a full 90 minutes.  Bruce Sterling is a Texas born American science-fiction author. He wrote a plethora of best-selling books, novels and short fiction and is one of the fathers of  the cyberpunk subgenre. Since 1976 Sterling amazes the world with provocative and accurate visions of the future. Above all, and since I was a teenager, he is one my favorite authors.

We talked about post-Trump, pre-Trump, Putin, China, the Metaverse, the Zuckerverse, vulcanoes, robotized gardening disasters, Austin, COVID, Elon Musk, the future,  broken kitchen chairs, oligarchy, Abbott, cyber warfare, actor-presidents, united European armies, bullshit economics, resistant forces, design, asbestos in post iron curtain Ukrainian buildings and death. That summarizes about the first 15 minutes of our chat. I’ll share more about Bruce and his razor-sharp vision after his keynote on Wednesday.

Nothing really matters

A typical Sterling oneliner hit me like a torpedo midships :  “The future does not matter when you’re broke, broken or death.” Bruce Sterling got a severe hit by Covid and admitted writing his will while suffering. “And you can feel the same in this festival”, he said: “It’s rattled and shaken to its very roots. It touched death, it is slowly recovering, but it has seen despair in the face. The world has changed…”

Shaken, not broken

You can indeed feel it. The festival, the speakers and the audience are shaking the grim drips of COVID like a wet dog reemerging from a cold, salty sea. You can feel that the optimistic innovative future vision of SXSW got hit hard. It is gathering steam, accelerating bravely towards destination blue sky, but the dent in the trust and the hurt are still there.

But, this is day three… the fists of destiny might have grazed the Texan congress, it is still standing, and it standing tall.

The world according to Amy Webb

Nothing better than a double dose of Amy Webb on the rocks to feel energized. The nuclear powered Amy Webb  advises CEOs of the world’s most-admired companies,  whispers three-star admirals and generals in the ear, and shows the senior leadership of central banks and intergovernmental organizations the ropes. The SXSW veteran is founder  and CEO of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. Amy Webb was named by Forbes as one of the five women changing the world, listed as the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020, and in 2021 was ranked on the Thinkers50 list of the 50 most influential management thinkers globally. Her latest book, The Genesis Machine, explores the futures of synthetic biology.

Celebrating her  15th annual trend report, Amy Webb and her team decided to go for the full monty. The report is 668 pages long, its wisdom goes oceans deep. 574 longitudinal tech, societal and science trends are covered. The whole is served in a most digestible format of 14 sub-divisions.

RE-perception is key

I’m proud of the report. But the report alone, the trends by themselves are not enough,” Webb said: ““You need to use trends to help you re-perceive the future. Re-perception is the very base of insights that move the needle, of change that matters. Re-perception helps  you influence the future, and change it. People and organizations need to take up responsibility and conduct actions right now to change behavior. The future outcomes need to be better.”

Words matter, certainly in the fast-moving and solid squared thinking world of Amy Webb: she suggests that we all stop talking about Climate Change. We need to call it what it is: a Climate Emergency.  The biggest problem facing the world right now is not creating Web3, collecting NFT’s, pondering about whether or not the Metaverse makes sense , or panic over AI Robots taking over the planet. It is about making changes about this emergency fast, and thorough. It might just save us.

The future is closer than you think

Webb highlighted three blocks of trends at SXSW: Artificial Intelligence, Web 3/the Metaverse/Blockchain and Synthetic Biology. “We’re getting closer to the day when AI networks do make their own decisions without a human in the loop. And if that has you freaked out, you are not the only one.”

Enter the metaverse at your own risk,  you will be vulnerable to influences. Regulation is needed, but not there yet. The de-centralized  web should be bout transparency, interoperability, and trust. But someone will have to guard and police it.

If you realize that 725 million chickens need to die each year just to answer the American need for chicken wings during the Super Bowl, you’ll understand that labgrown chicken meat is no luxury. Synthetic biology serves us chicken meat directly made from stem cells. Enjoy your meal.

You can see the complete key-note hereunder. It is well worth your time. You can download the full report on this link, for free.  The level of detail, the clarity is beyond amazing. Amy rocks!

Grow an island

Let me end this day with another Bruce Sterling quote: “While I was ill, I followed the news regarding the explosion of the volcano in La Palma. It created itself from nothing, burned stone into an island that was paradise to people for thousands of years. And now it is growing more land for us to live on. All change is finally for the better.”

The Art of Gathering: together we translate purpose into magic

Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer of SXSW is a happy man. After the very last minute cancellation of the 2020 edition of Austin’s finest congress, he went through a decimation of his staff, experienced almost the kiss of death by bankruptcy, and managed by the skin of his teeth to save the furniture by holding a virtual event in 2021. Seeing the in-person crowd flocking back together  in Austin’s congress center is the crown on two years of hard work.  Forrest is convinced the world needs the festival more than ever.

The world is brutal

The need and power and the value of inspiration have never been more pressing,” Forrest said. “The world outside of SXSW has never been more brutal.” Truth be told: the tanks slowly rolling into the Ukrainian cities is on everyone’s mind, especially for the visiting Europeans to whom the war strikes way too close to home to feel comfortable.

Another cloud shading SXSW’s usually sunny demeanor is the blow that was delivered by the Texan legislators to the LGBTQ+, and women communities through anti-transgender bills, and anti-abortion laws. Forrest condemned them firmly, but the laws signed by Governor Greg Abbott are met with anger and disbelief. Some speakers did not descend to Austin out of protest, some brands refrained from participating, and there is a growing pressure on the event-organizers to relocate the festival altogether.

We can move the needle

Forrest is convinced that the festival, and the people attending the congress can help changing the world for the better: “Do the people at SXSW have the power to change what is happening in Eastern Europe? Do the people in this room have the power to change repulsive legislation we are seeing in Texas and other states? Yes, we do. I think the people in this room can help move the needle forward, ” said Hugh Forrest.

Collective power

He sees the collective brainpower at SXSW as a bright spotlight on  the possibilities of progress, of humanity, of positive thinking, technological features and innovative approaches. The most innovative and revolutionizing thinkers in a plethora of disciplines and professions pack a ton of power and  strengthen each other. Forrest hopes that the inspiration and energy received at SXSW gives hope to approach these difficult problems.

He pointed out the reinvigorating power of rediscovering face-to-face interactions, to meet in person, and to brainstorm and ideate as a group. “It may sound hippy-dippy even utopian”, he said: “but gathering together and coming up with new ideas provides hope for the future and for resolutions to the world’s problems.”

The art of Gathering

Priya Parker, then kicked SXSW 2022 into motion.   Parker packs more power in her left pinky than a truckload of nitroglycerine. Sharp, intelligent, to the point and energizing she fueled the hope of Forrest.  Parker is an American facilitator, strategic advisor extra-ordinaire, and author of one of the most revealing books I’ve read  in the last decennium The Art Of Gathering.  She is the founder of Thrive Labs, and assists decision makers, activists, captains of industry, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists to build transformative gatherings; shared moments that matter. Conflict management and crafting joined solutions through meaningful connections are her secret weapons. (I admit: I have a solid case of biased brain crush. I will not even apologize)

We gather to engage

How can we gather here in Austin, while there is this brutal invasion on the other side of the world. How do we resolve that with having fun at SXSW?” Forrest asked her.

Parker explained that gathering together is by no means some cheap escapism, on the contrary: we gather to engage, to fortify, to mourn, to grieve, to make sense of the world and harness the power of those captive moments of togetherness. “At moments of crisis is the most important moments to come together,” she said.

Cut the useless, double down on meaningful

In her book The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker argues that we suffer from a overdose of useless encounters and meetings in our lives.  Enhanced even more by a quick culture of hollow AudioVisual meetings, accelerated by the COVID social distancing, we have way too many empty meetings in our lives that are lackluster and  worryingly unproductive. A shame, because the very purpose of meetings is to establish the opposite.

Priya Parker points out that we rely too much on rusty routine and the incomprehensible conventions whether social, or business.  She believes moments together should be celebrated, should have a well-defined purpose, should focus on distinctiveness and add value by and for the people involved. If there is no clear common purpose  for a meeting -in person or at a distance- , there should be no meeting. Parker is clear: do not call your mom because you have to… call your mom because you have something to say, something to share, or a good moment to give.  Don’t meet your client because the bi-weekly meeting is penciled in: gather with your client to get closer together, better to the business at hand, grow in co-construction. Change starts by adding value, and creating value. Meetings without value -human, sentimental, economic, practical or other- are a waste of time and energy, disrespectful, and should be cancelled.  

Create meaningful experiences

At this time, hesitantly exiting 25 months of COVID isolation, coming together is more important than ever.  Parker pleads for a human-centered (technology backboned) approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play.

Push and pull communication, interaction and focused dialogue around clear topics give meaning and set into motion change .  Every participant in a meeting becomes an actor in and an ambassador of its success.

Priya Parker shows how high-powered gatherings change relations, projects, businesses and the world. Meaningful connections. Communication professionals, connective strategists, media planners, creative conceptors, marketing powerplayers: they should listen to Priya. How do we get rid of meaningless connections between brands and consumers? How can we add energy and purpose at every point and moment of contact? How can we make every contact, every encounter count.

You create value by adding value…. Do we?

Fake News : for worse and good…

Who do you trust? Who do you know? Who do you really, really know? Most of us have been baffled over the past months with how colleagues, clients, friends, even loved ones turned out to be way different that we thought they were. It starts small. A little like on a controversial post. A little share of a doubtful message. A snarky remark in a comment. Before you knew what happened, they turned into the living death. Spreaders of fake news and conspiracy theories. Believers of global, Illuminati lead machinations: massive election fraud. Child eating politicians. The Great Reset. Rockefeller sponsored massive virus induced genocide. Bill Gates propelled vaccination attempts to inject us with bio-bots hidden in vaccines… 5G controlled humanity.

Smartly Eroding Trust

While mankind was facing a global pandemic with about all computer power and science at its disposal,  an old and sneaky enemy re-emerged from the abyss of forgottenness: dis-information. Fake News. A powerful and underestimated threat that is attacking the very foundations of civil and moral  society. Carefully planted, media propelled, peer-shared, logarithm empowered disinformation, fake news and YouTube endorsed conspiracy theories and Q fabrications are spreading like wildfire and are slowly but surely eroding public trust in civic and scientific institutions on all levels. The ones wielding these doubtful -and arguably wrong- info believe themselves to be intellectual superior, better informed, most critical thinkers. The label the rest of us “sleepers”, “sheep” or “sheeple”.

Echo-chambering towards the void

John Sixpack and Karen Doe believe more eagerly a cheaply edited and poorly glued together online video rant from a nitwit with a mission, than seasoned scientists, doctors, historians and academics. Experts are having the uttermost difficulty to maintain even an illusion of a big part of the public’s faith. The battering from social media proclaimed “experts”, dreamers and contrarian thinkers is multiplied and boosted by the spiralling power of the echo-chambers . The Quest against fake-news is a major topic at this edition of SXSW. How does it work? Why does it happen? How can it be stopped? Should it? Where does freedom of speech end? How can journalists, media, influencers -at all levels- embark on the effort to maintain and rebuild the public’s trust and fortify the pillars of society in the face of this treacherous threat.

Educate, educate, educate

At SXSW EDU debates were heated on how students should/could be teached to spot misinformation and, more importantly, how to understand the agogic, neuro-scientific and demagogic forces behind it. The National Association for Media Literacy Education wants to bring the challenges of teaching about misinformation in and out of the classroom.  Fact-checkers are explaining how Fake News can be spotted, how things are checked. I had a chat with workplace experts (yes, that is a job) how Fake News can ruin the workplace in the blink of an eye, and can rotten a company culture to the bone. I had a beer with an ethical teacher congratulating us, Belgians, on the great international example of “Lead Stories », the innovative fact checking website at the intersection of big data and journalism created by Maarten Schenk: “Just Because It’s Trending Doesn’t Mean It’s True.” Roger that Maarten!

Media literacy is the key

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the nonprofit National Association of Media Literacy Education, explained that the value of teaching students how to spot and tackle misinformation, should be more than a class to teach. It should be installing a skill set that can be applied in any subject, on any topic, always, everywhere. “For us, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and act using all forms of communication,” Ciulla Lipkin said. It generates the capacity to critical thinking. A trained mind is more difficult to influence, more robust to disinformation attacks.  Fair question is: who is qualified (read “clean” and “neutral”) enough to train? And, more importantly, what is disinformation, and does it/does it not have a reason/a right to be?

Michelle Ciulla Lipkin pointed out that the growing trend of black-or-whitening complex realities does not help. “One of the struggles with disinformation and fake news is that it puts information way too often in two camps: right, or wrong, fact or fiction. In reality, most often it is more complicated than that. The truth is a grey area….”

Truth over profit?

There is a lot of finger pointing as well: towards journalists, who often give equal airtime to peer-reviewed experts and shady charlatans, and as such credibilize the latter. Towards media who “cite” more and more, and tend to fact-check less and are losing the art of reporting topics in a clear perspective. Towards the GAFAM, nicely rebranded “G-Mafia” by Amy Webb, because their powerful logarithms end up filtering all contrarian messages out of one’s timeline. Towards the advertising industry, for keeping on sponsoring the very dynamics that spread fake news. Towards brands, for way too often lacking the guts and the balls to withdraw their billions from shady news and entertainment platforms. Towards the entire communications industry, for not self-regulating. Towards politicians, for not enforcing fact-checking by law. Towards companies, for not investing enough in clear and interactive push-pull communication.

Deep-fake for good

A session on how government, academia and industry are using deep-fakes and similar applications for good caught my attention. It froze every hair on my back. A session on how several “groundbreaking positive-use cases have emerged where operatives use deep-fake and fake news tech to protect privacy, enhance accessibility and even inspire justice” just beggars believe. For crying out loud: you cannot fight bad with bad. You fight it with good. The “I use my deep-fake to counter your evil intentions and fake news” makes me think on how James Bond uses women to save the planet. It is not a pretty comparison.

Start with… you.

People are increasingly doubting every single answer they get. So, start building up trust. Put things in perspective. Show there is a rainbow of colors between black and white. Be understanding, but firm. Show your clients the ethical path, the balanced choice. The battle for the consumer is fierce. Once the dust and smoke settles, it will be clear that brands that proved to be truthful and trustworthy have a competitive edge… and that is a bankable advantage.

Trust me, I am a consultant.

A Token of your Crypto is not perse an NFT, you know?

Every single year, the heat is on. Everybody is looking for The Thing that will make SXSW sing. The tech that will be the talk of town. The thing not to miss. Countless agencies, investors, promoters and owners have been burning through major heaps of cash to be top-of mind at the Austin exhibition. The most notable winner was, without doubt, the launch of Twitter here at SXSW 2007. The most noticeable loser is probably Meerkat in 2016. After a very promising hype just before the conference, it was killed in a minute by the very same Twitter.

If I have to put some money down, there are two obvious contenders. The Metaverse in all its angles and possibilities, and the great come back from never really gone away: blockchain and its growing number of derivatives: the cryptocurrencies, the derived coins, the tokens, the non-fungible tokens, the smart contracts, the POP’s (proof of Attendance) or POAP (Proof of Attendance Protocol): essentially a blockchain protocol that proves you were somewhere at a certain time. All this will be in close harmony with talks about Web 3.0 and the decentralized internet. I hope you’re up to speed with your DAO? Your decentralized autonomous organization ?

Men in Black

It’s a bit concerning that a small army of smart looking financial business people cramped in very fashionable hoodies (that Hugo Boss suit would scream ‘murder’ at SXSW) and great corporate hair are taking on SXSW, in a town (Austin) that has as tagline “keep Austin weird”. Just looking at the adds, take overs, signage all over Austin, there is no doubt: NFT’s, the blockchain and WEB 3.0 will be served in all seizes and flavors.

We’re going to see a ton of NFT companies and startups in Austin,” acknowledges Hugh Forrest, director of the SXSW Interactive festival, to the AustinINNO: “They have a lot of money. They’re spending money. Every inch of concrete that can be sponsored is going to have an NFT company attached to it.”

The Dollyverse !

I counted well over fifty blockchain/crypto/ NFT/Token-theme presentations, demo’s, art-set-ups, panels, activations, gatherings, diners and events. Global superstar and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee Dolly Parton (singer of “Jolene”, godmother of Miley Cyrus, you’re welcome.) is partnering with FOX Entertainment’s Blockchain Creative Labs to launch “Dollyverse,” an audience-centric Web3 experience. “There’s almost nothing more important to me than connecting with my fans. And I’m almost always up for trying something new and different. I’d say releasing NFTs at my first ever appearance at SXSW, with James Patterson by my side, definitely counts as new and different!” said Dolly Parton (76). Look, If the Queen of Country music is going Metaverse… it might be time to take a deeper look at it.

There is another Musk

I’am also particularly looking forward to the session with Kimbal Musk (yes, Elon’s baby millionaire brother) on DAO’s (decentralized autonomous organizations). The core idea that decentralized blockchain-based voting and governance will revolutionize centralized corporate decision-making, is not new…it looks like DAO’s have finally grown to maturity as investors, non-for-profit organizations, charity and community projects start rolling them out to reduce administrative waste, carve out the spent on middlemen and optimize resource allocation.

Time for the « HOW »

I must admit that it’s getting interesting. After years of presentations on the « what” and the “why”, I was left a bit hungry and mildly frustrated. Truth, I made more money with a couple of coins than with my -very modest- savings account. But was that it, the big crypto-everything? It looks that here at SXSW, at least some answers are going to be given on the “HOW”.

How will this enable us, common mortals, to deliver prove of our assets? How will it help artists and thinkers to secure and monetize intellectual property? Can craftsmen, artists, provide proof of authenticity? Brands help to certify provenance and applied ethics around products? Can it end the sweatshops? Stop bio-food and short-supply-chain-swindle? Can it help recruiters drilling down to the real academic credentials of a candidate faster?  

Can it help refugees to prove who they are and where they come from, complete with their academic and asset history? Can it be used to track use of art, and fairly pay artists? Will it revolutionize dating apps? Replace loyalty cards? Will it replace banks, brokers or notaries? Will it help secure medical records, while facilitating need-based access? Will it allow media agencies to deal wit data in a responsible way? Will it help protect consumers with their basic privacy and digital identity rights?

I have the questions. Will SXSW have the answers?

« He talks about you in his sleep
And there’s nothing I can do to keep
From crying when he calls your name

And I can easily understand
How you could easily take my man
But you don’t know what he means to me
Jolene »

Dolly Parton

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.


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.


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?

Aids did not kill sex. Covid19 will not kill hugging.

Can we talk about dr. Mayim Chaya Bialik for a second? You might know her as the neuroscientist Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s love interest in “The Big Bang Theory”.  She was so stunning beautiful that the production had to dress her down, to make her an acceptable academic. Because, well beautiful women cannot have brains. *sigh*. Bialik actually has a doctorate in neuroscience, with a dissertation on hypothalamic activity.

Watching her debate today with Prof. Yuval Noah Harari, historian,  bestselling author, and considered one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals, made my brain happy.  In a world where half of the internet finds arguments for a flat earth on YouTube, and another third believes Bill Gates is interested in injecting 5G controlled nano-bots in our bloodstreams, finding two consenting adults in a sapiosexual parler-vrai is re-assuring.

Killing witches

Harari, in his bone-dry way, manipulates words like The Witcher wields his sword: precise, relentless, efficient. Information kills. The first mass medium, printing press, through solid catholic books, labelled smart women as “witches”. Sleeping with the devil, turning decent people into frogs, the works.  Men, already feeling threatened by women with brains, found in these books the permission to kill: thousands of innocent women and girls were tortured, burned or drowned. Because the book said so.  The parallel to today’s witch-hunt with virologists, epidemiologists and immunologists is frightening: a second mass-medium (the internet) is slowly stigmatizing them as “the enemy”, the “deep state”, “paid for by the 1 percenters”, “wanting to de-populate the world”.  Information with the potential to kill. Because the web said so.

Weeks ago, thousands of people invaded The Capitol,  because The Man said so… and the ones who said otherwise, the media, were ‘enemies of the state’: fake news. A story well-crafted, well told for years, grooms the masses.

It does not have to be true   

Bialik chimed in on how we are programmed, neuro-scientifically, to react to stories. Stories wire us to believe, to do, to feel, to act. Stories make us understand, make us feel safe. Stories have a beginning, an ending. Innovation makes that if you change the story-line, you change the ending. You hurt our hard-wired programming. You will be met with resistance.  If God created us, in the middle of the universe, a story placing the sun in the middle of the solar system, will be met with disbelieve, with anger, with violence.

Harari points out a bone chilling truth: the story does not need to be true. The truth does not matter, the story-line does. Find the story that is easier to believe, and it will become truth.  The better told story wins over scientific evidence. Time after time.  Look at religions, complot theories, sects; look how wars were started…  Trying to point to the truth with facts and science is laudable, but very inefficient. Few people that have the right background to point out the truth, have the storytelling skills to make that truth compelling.

We are afraid of change

The debate showed how the introduction of almost any transformative technology has been met with wonder as well as fear, aggression and rejection. Our  greatest inventors were considered heretics. The mad scientist is burned in our brain-wiring from our very youth. The new still scares us.  We are afraid of change.

Media are stuck

Where journalists in bona-fida media for long showed the way through the muddy waters between disinformation and truth, they seem to have lost their magic. The fourth power has lost its steam. Logic investigative journalism is not great at storytelling.  Some kids with a collective low double digit IQ, weaponed with a 4k camcorder  and a YouTube channel  tell way better and more compelling stories.  A scary amount of people is not even able -or willing- to understand the very arguments that set out a theory in the first place.  “Journalists are now stuck in arguments about basic established facts instead of moving the ball forward. This prevents true conversations… instead we’re wasting breath on whether or not the Earth is round” says news anchor Ben Collins.

Ethics should rule

Harari and Bialik point out that every single doctor needs to pass tests on his ethical skills before he can claim his degree. He swears an oath to Hippocrates. So do judges. And the rest of us?

What is the staggering power teachers have? The tremendous power -and responsibility- the coders have that build the very platforms that are designed to feed us with news? The people bringing the news? The corporations and brands that pay for the news? The spin-doctors creating the political and brand stories? The  communication and media wizards and their data-loaded, AI driven programmatic machinery?

Is it not time that they take ethic courses? Pass an ethical exam? Swear an oath that matters? Should we not start working on a society that embeds ethics-by-design?

United, we conquer

How can we ensure that innovators, legislators, coders, data-architects, communicators and educators should consider these ethical issues and understand their staggering responsibility in ensuring outcomes that lead to the betterment of people and the planet?

In the end, the truth always prevails, like oil on water. Aids did not kill sex. Covid19 will not kill hugging. We will all be fine. Science will save us, once again.

But the better story, in the wrong skilled hands, with the wrong intentions, might cost humanity a lot more than a pandemic.

And you, you are the very first line of defense.  I will do my part. I will tell my five year old daughter about dr. Mayim Chaya Bialik.

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