The 10 SXSW “Dibrot”

by Naomi Less

This past week, through an incredible professional development opportunity via ROI’s Micro Grant program, I was able to step into a world virtually unknown to me, expand my thinking, perspective on the world and understanding of how I can further serve the Jewish community. Oddly enough, that came from the South by Southwest Interactive conference.

One would think, as a rock musician, I’d be better suited for the Music or even the Film conference – insanely fantastic networking – but I took a step back and saw SXSW* Interactive as a new opportunity. Needless to say, it was WORTH it: changing perspective, environments, leaving my comfort zone and exposing myself to a whole different world. And, wow, the connections and new possibilities were ENDLESS.
* (that’s code for South By Southwest)

Here are 10 “Dibrot” – “sayings” that represent my life-lesson take-aways:
(Dibrot are often translated as Commandments, but I think “sayings” is closer to the word Dibrot)

Naomi’s 10 List

  1. Networking for Others Creates BOTH Joy + Exponentially Extended Reach: I spoke with many fellow ROI’ers about their goals for SXSW. Yes, I came to take home learnings, but one of my favorite joys in life is making connections between people and ideas. As I walked the halls, trade show or sat in sessions, I could connect my ROI colleagues’ desires by picking up business cards or information that they might be interested in. It feels REALLY good to help your colleagues and friends!!! PLUS: Someone do the math on this, but imagine the greater ground and extended reach we have when we all operate this way! And if that’s not reason enough, how about good old karma?
  2. Plan for Serendipity: this actually came out of a session I attended with my new friend Yoni Sarason (Birthright Israel Next – Chicago). The idea presented is a major life lesson. When we enter places, meetings, conferences, etc., with a particular “track” or one particular outcome we’re looking for (for example: “get 10 leads on a music deal”), that goal can limit us to serendipitous possibilities. If we enter a situation with a more open presence, we may find other opportunities that didn’t necessarily look exactly like our objective, but serve the same goal. (Example: If I had only walked the halls myopically looking for folks who could connect me to music companies, I would’ve missed out on all of the other ways I could provide music in this world – like in games, interactive websites, sounds for documentaries, tv news segments. The bigger goal is to make a living by doing music.) By leaving yourself open to serendipitious conversations, being PRESENT with folks, trusting that you know your goals – (lose the tunnel vision) – you allow/plan for exponentially larger numbers of connections and opportunities.
  3. Chasing the Unicorn is Silly (or in other words, FOMO – Fear of Missing Out): This is a pathology at SXSW. There is this concept of “chasing the dragon” (dragon was replaced by Unicorn at SXSW) which means, whatever event you’re at – there’s some other event that’s hotter or with better connections, so you have to keep moving to chase that imaginary animal. (Apologies to all real unicorns for calling them imaginary.) The ROIers I was with broke through the pathology – who we were with WAS the Unicorn. At least that was my experience. I didn’t feel compelled to chase around, make sure I was at the “right” event – because wherever I was, there were quality interactions. Quality interactions beats quantity in my opinion. Plus, for those of us who actually like authentic human interaction, being present somewhere, to someone, with someone, actually feels really good for both people!
  4. Chasing the Jewnicornor “chamsa chasing” is NOT silly: Yes, the Jewnicorn … a little joke. We coined an activity called “Chamsa Chasing” which is really a secret (not anymore) term for “outreach”. You see, we ROIers value the experience we had at ROI – living your Jewish values through social entrepreneurism, connecting with others who feel similarly, and collaborating together to make a better world (Tikkun Olam). Therefore, we were on the lookout for social entrepreneurs at SXSW who were Jewish and might find ROI interesting as well. At one point I called it non-religious or Progressive Chabad. I said this with the highest level of respect for Chabad which in my opinion, does the best outreach in the Jewish world, if not the WHOLE world. As I’ve been quoted before in previous blogs and articles, I’m a “Jew-vangelist” – meaning, I love Judaism, I find it relevant, valuable and super engaging in my life. So why would I not want to share that with people I meet, like or love? So if there are folks out there who are Jewish and are social entrepreneurs, why would I not want to share my love of ROI with them. Hence #chamsachasing at SXSW.
  5. Trade Shows Rock: There is such opportunity at trade shows. Every person you meet wants to tell you about their product or service. But the reason they rock, is that Trade Shows are a personal challenge course game. For every person I meet, I am challenged to connect what they do with either what I or my friends might be interested in. It often goes beyond what they’re selling – (ex. a product development idea they haven’t thought about that I could help them with, a service that could help the Jewish community they could pilot with us.) Possibilities are ENDLESS! (this relates back to #2 – Planned Serendipity)
  6. (Re)inventing Yourself can happen in a SECOND!: (this relates to #’s 5 and 2). If you actually say what you do with confidence and authority, people believe you. So even if this is the first time you’ve ever thought of yourself as a “game strategist” or a “blogger” or whatever your new passion is, when you believe it and say it out loud with confidence, unapologetically, others do as well! (Short anecdote, in case you want to skip to #7) When I was first in NY, a new guitarist just starting out, carrying my new guitar, I bumped into LOU REED! (Yes, that Lou Reed). He looked at me. I blurted out: I’m a musician. He looked at me, looked at the guitar, looked back at me, nodded, smiled and walked on. I’d never referred to myself as a musician before. Lou Reed believed me because I believed it myself! In an instant, I was a musician.
  7. Jews are Everywhere. (They really are.)
  8. Authenticity Opens Doors: A lesson encountered time and again, as I did at SXSW. The more honest I was about who I was and what I wanted, the more people were responsive to me and wanting to help. The less I “pitched” and the more “authentic” I was, the more open people were to expose themselves to me. Go figure.
  9. Go where you grow, not where you know. This phrase, coined by Sarah Lefton ( is built off my description of how I decided to go to the Interactive conference and not the music conference, pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It’s a keeper, Sarah! Call to Action moment: As a JEWISH EDUCATOR, I want to challenge my colleagues in the field to not just have conversations with like-minds, known subjects and methods, familiar conferences, etc., but to embrace professional development opportunities that push us out of our comfort zones. (Please substitute Jewish educator for whatever field you’re in.)
  10. Community helps both Ground and Springboard at the same time: (this is the safety net to #9) Face it: it’s hard to go into unchartered, unfamiliar territory. I was WAY overwhelmed going to SXSW Interactive. We ROIers everyday had a Meet-Up which served to both ground and springboard me at the same time. I shared connections I’d made, helped other people, heard their take on sessions or presenters I was considering attending to help me make my decision, and just laughed and experienced familiarity for a moment. This safety net motivated me to take risks. The shared background and shared experiences/language we had from ROI actually helped me push my own comfort zone!

Naomi Less is founder of Jewish Chicks Rock.

Connected by the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators.