Finding Inspiration in Unexpected Places.

This was my first trip to SXSW, and like a lot of first-timers, I found it a bit overwhelming. I must have scoured the program five times before selecting the sessions I was sure would give me the most bang for my buck, from the brightest minds, biggest brands, and coolest creatives and entrepreneurs. Boy was I wrong. Not that some of them didn’t deliver — they did, but the ones that really stuck with me came out of left field. They were the ones I chose on a whim because my first choice was too full, or too far away. Or I was tired of topics that were just too close to my day-to-day agency life. Here they are, intentionally in no particular order.

Forget Loyalty, Build Habits
This one was part marketing, part behavioral science. Apparently, almost half the decisions people make every day are habits, because the brain can’t handle thinking all the time. Yet most marketing tries to get people to rethink their conscious decisions. That’s an uphill battle. Why not focus on weaving your product/service into peoples’ lives and offering “moments of delight” that form habits? Mind blown.

Blue Man Branding
I had no idea who the founder of Blue Man Group was, but he was mesmerizing even without the makeup. He evangelized that brands reinforce one’s vision about one’s self. And in the best-case scenario, the product or service itself, and the vision it represents, work equally to "heighten one’s sense of being alive.” He also had the quote of the week: “Artists and entrepreneurs have the ability to go into the Neverland and bring something back that normal people can understand.”

Stadiums: The New Cathedrals
This session on the future of sports stadiums was fascinating, mainly because so much of it also applies to the future of brands. The key is a story that combines people, site, culture, and purpose. New stadiums, like brands, will be embedded with tech to be adaptive and reactive. They will use data and sensors to interconnect fans and athletes and augment the experience, and they will rely less and less on selling seats (ads) and more on building shared experiences.

Code and Shakespeare
Walter Isaacson (CEO of the Aspen Institute), Eric Schmidt (Chairman of Google), and Megan Smith (CTO of the Obama Administration) are big, important people with a lot of big, important things to say. But my favorite quote sort of snuck up near the end of their keynote, after a lively conversation about getting more diversity into the tech industry. Isaacson said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “We have to stop acting like code is so different from any other form of knowledge and letting ourselves not understand it. No one would admit they don’t know the difference between algebra and geometry, but they readily admit they know nothing about how computers work. Code is as beautiful as Hamlet and not as hard.”

Makes me want to go out and learn some code. And brush up on my Shakespeare, too. And isn’t that what SXSW is supposed to be all about?