SXSW: People and Ideas, Changing the World

by David Notik

SXSW in Austin in March. It’s spring break for geeks, only “geeks” is broadly inclusive, it’s not quite “spring” yet, and it’s not a “break” so much as it is a continuation. Last year, I extended a family trip by a couple of days to see what “South-by” (as it is oft verbally abbreviated) was all about, because it’s made its way onto nearly every connected creative’s radar including mine, and given what I’d gathered it felt like I should be there. I didn’t have a badge but I made my way downtown for a couple of nights and found my way into a few crowds and into some parties. I got the sense that the town was overflowing with smart, creative people, their ideas and products, and a passion for changing the world, or at least something in it, for the better. I knew I wanted to be back, and so here I am a year later gliding off the intensity that was the Interactive portion of the gathering that is South by Southwest.

I learned that this gathering is about people and ideas, and that it offers a plethora of ways to connect with those people and those ideas – watching a panel discussion in one of the conference rooms or a keynote at the convention center, attending a niche gathering in one of the bars or lounges or restaurants or outdoor tents, bumping into people on line at a food truck or at a party or in a crowd on the street or while charging your phone at one of the mobile charging stations parked around town, or striking up conversation at any one of the many sponsored gatherings doling out free food, beer and schwag. It’s at once structured and spontaneous, organized and chaotic, and serendipitous everywhere.

The bottom-up culture is one where striking up a conversation with your neighbor is exactly what we’re all here for, and what’s grand is that so many great minds are here with whom to do that. I approached the author of a book that inspires much of my thinking after he appeared on a panel and we began a conversation; I tweeted an expert whose talk I’d missed and we sat on an outdoor bench together as I sought his insights; a guy and gal approached as I paused at the bar in a technology-specific gathering and a depth-filled conversation ensued about changing the world; I connected at different points with others in an innovative global network I’m a part of and learned about their ideas, their passions, and their awesome work. When you talk to so many wonderful people about so many wonderful things, you can’t help but be optimistic about humanity and our ability to solve the big problems. When you’re doing it on a free bicycle in beautiful Austin weather with positive and festive energy all around you, you’re even more optimistic.

I learned that the word “coalesce” is a favorite verb, as it describes so much of what this gathering is all about, and so much of what some of the best ideas and visions of our future are all about. The gathering itself is by the people, and a mass of learning, sharing, connecting and energy is created through the efforts of many individuals and groups. With so many things going on, groups of folks would come together organically around the things that interested them, and it was always amazing when I discovered how like minded others in the room were. Where our world is going is also by the people, as the revolution that’s made possible by connected people and ideas is breaking down walls and empowering people to work together better in support of a better world. The future is decentralized, distributed and democratic and that’s in glorious display here, perhaps ironically given the hyperlocal characteristics of this gathering.

When so many great people and ideas coalesce to intensify an ongoing conversation and exploration for a few days, beautiful things happen. I’ll absorb the ideas and experiences and be further armed and empowered to play my part in the unfolding story of a better world.

I’m grateful to have the support of an innovative organization that gets it, and blessed to be able to share along this adventure with a group of smart and dedicated people I call my friends and peers.

David Notik is founder of Woven.

Connected by the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators.