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- Generation X
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For all posts and pictures in the photo journal series visit austinduality.com.
Austin Duality: The Search for Innovation at SXSW Interactive
Day 3 was an epic day. And I think, so far, the most rewarding on my search for Innovation at SXSW Interactive. I started my South By trek at the Palmer Event Center, across the river and a bit out of the downtown core and away from the Austin City corporate take-over. At Palmer was a free, open-to-the-puplic game convention filled with cosplay teens, anime fans, and card game disciples. Outside was the SX Create 2015 event. Create was just two tents in a smallish outdoor atrium patio area, but it was teaming with people, with the average age of maybe 13 years old. Where the Austin Convention Center, Third Street, and the hotels and restaurants that make up the majority of South By's content is inhabited entirely by middle-aged adults, here at Create, kids were everywhere, eagerly involved in what can simply be states as a Youth Maker Movement. As we study Generation Z and learn to understand how this next generation will shape the world, it's becoming increasingly clear that they are a generation of makers, engineers, and entrepreneurs whose focus on product creation is unlike any generation has every seen. This couldn't have been more clear at SX Create. As we walked through the space and saw kids, tweens and teens soldering circuit boards, programming Arduino units, building stop motion animation, learning the electronics behind synthesizers, tinkering with robots, and making products on home-made 3D printers, it occurred to me that this generation has been handed the technology and tools to innovate unlike any before it. If Innovation exists at SXSW, it's in the hands of a 9 year old.
Feeling inspired by SX Create, I proceeded to the Austin Convention Center to take in some of the sessions. The first was Brian Grazer, the Hollywood power producer and Ron Howard's partner at Imagine Entertainment behind films such as 8 Mile, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Backdraft, and Splash amongst others. His films have have been nominated for a total of 43 Academy Awards and 131 Emmys and his movies have generated more than $13.5 billion in worldwide theatrical, music, and video grosses. Brian Grazer was interviewed by Charles Fishman, an author who recently co-wrote a book with Brian, A Curious Mind. Brian Grazer opened up about his process to use Curiosity Conversations to learn about the world, but more importantly, to get inside the psyche of another person and to understand their perspective as a means to inspire creative thought. In over 30 years he has had more than 470 Curiosity Conversations with everyone from Isaac Asimov to Mark Cuban to eminem, Dr Dre, Malcolm Gladwell and Princess Diane. "You have a much better chance of doing something original, doing something truly authentic, if you can get outside your comfort zone and inhabit the psyche of another person." he said. Brian talked about the insights that you can discover in that chemical moment between a questions and an answer. There's a raw emotion there, only for a split second, where you can truly see what someone is thinking and maybe even understand their point of view. As I seek to understand how to be a better creative, how to find raw, authentic, original ideas, I learned from Brian's talk that to be curious about other people, might be a breakthrough methodology.
Next came another Hollywood juggernaut, Jessica Alba. Best known for her work as an actress in films such as Sin City and Fantastic Four, what many people don't know is that Jessica Alba is an entrepreneur and founder of a lifestyle products company called The Honesty Company. The three year old start-up is now valued at a billion dollars. A billion. Jessica was joined on stage by Brian Lee, the VC and founder behind LegalZoom, amongst other companies. Brian and Jessica talked about the challenges of being a challenger brand, what it means to really be Honest and deliver on their brand promise, and what Jessica's role as Chief Creative Officer meant surrounding their products and customer experience. What surprised me was how smart, insightful and sincere Jessica really was. You don't necessarily expect a Hollywood actor to discuss a start-up in such a sincere and authentic way, but that's just what she did. From discussing why Honest was founded (to take out the toxins in household products for her children) to the personal training they give their staff (like the group of 17 year old girls that they teach how to code) to the mistakes they've made as a company (detergent pods that would explode in the cold), Jessica Alba was the embodiment of what it meant to be a modern, career woman in a tough, eat-or-be-eaten business environment. The one theme that Jessica and Brian stressed was to be tenacious. Brian spoke of his more than 50 VC pitches he made for LegalZoom before he started it on his own, meagre funds. And Jessica talked about how she had to manage rejection and be persistent to get the company off the ground.
If curiosity can drive original ideas, than persistence can bring them to life.
The day did not end there. And the theme of creativity continued through the evening. I experienced the Austin version of a magical mystery tour from four musicians and a "gypsy" who call themselves Interstellar Transmissions. This group has put everything into a tricked-out trippy school bus so they could play music for people while driving around the streets of Austin. More so than probably any band showcasing at SXSW, this group embodied the idea of creativity. They are making something, and delivering it in a different, engaging way. As the night rolled on I experienced cowgirls and barmaids, street musicians and artists, partygoers and party promoters, and everything else that only a night in Austin at SXSW can deliver. It was weird. It was good. Creativity is alive and well at SXSW.
View all the photos at austinduality.com