So Far at South by Southwest

Too much going on here at South by Southwest for me to compose a fully coherent report of what’s going on. But I’d be guilty of dereliction of geek duties if I didn’t at least post some random notes, so here we go.

  • There are more Mac laptops here than I’ve ever seen at a conference whose title didn’t begin with “Macworld” and end in “Expo.” They easily outnumber the Wintel machines, two-to-one (if you want to assign any value to a gross estimate), a weird and somewhat gratifying circumstance.
  • The SXSW conference badges, about the size of an index card and worn on a lanyard, are too difficult to read. Lots of people I want to meet for the first time are known to me only through email, so I keep trying to check everyoe’s badges. The names are printed at a reasonable size, but the person’s group affiliation is printed exceedingly small — and in most cases, the most important identifier would be the person’s domain name. My badge reads “Behavior,” but I want to be able to add “,” to it, too.
  • The panels I’ve seen so far have been uneven. I saw Jeffrey Zeldman’s keynote, which was appropriately entertaining if not tremendously insightful. Andy Budd and and Jeremy Keith gave a pretty humorous talk on “Bluffing Your Way in CSS.” At least they were fun.
  • I had the most problems with Jason Fried’s talk on “How to Make Big Things Happen with Small Teams.” It confused a series of excellent lessons on how to build software products given limited resources with a methodology for providing services to clients in general. Good stuff mixed up with some questionable advice.
  • In fact, that’s a problem I have with many seminars geared towards jump starting creativity, not just here at SXSW but at most conferences: they put forward an ideal of creative circumstance that, while laudable, is frustratingly unrealistic. In a talk given yesterday by Alexander Manu (the title of which is too long-winded to bother repeating here), I heard things like, “Never divide work and play,” and, “Never consider play a task.” All fine and good, but lots of people don’t have the luxury of acting on such advice.

More later…

  1. I couldn’t agree more with your last two bullets about people recommending idealized situations for increasing creativity that don’t necessarily work for everyone. I realize these people have become successful using the methodology they’re trying to share, but they’re forgetting that a big portion of the success equation is dependent on people and their environment, both of which may not be compatible with their recommendations. It can be a little frustrating sitting in the audience thinking, “this is all well and good — it obviously worked for them — but how the hell am I going to make this work at my job?”

    Frankly, sometimes I think some people work hard to verbalize/visualize their process after achieving success so they can go on the road and sell seminars.

  2. Nice to hear that you have posted some nice notes on whats crack a lacking at SXSW. Let’s just hope that I can make it next time. 😀

  3. On the other hand, it’s sometimes possible (with creativity and effort) to make unrealistic ideals into a reality.

    I initially had a similar reaction to his presentation, but as he continued speaking, I eventually came to realize that I was unjustly dismissing what was probably good advice. Instead of finding reasons why it couldn’t work (clients just wouldn’t understand, etc.), I decided to work on finding ways to make it happen for my own firm. I think it’s possible!

  4. Oddly enough, this year seems much more packed than last year – I’m not sure if there’s more people or if the placement of certain sessions has been poorly planned. Last year, no one had to sit on the floor or stand in the back – it seems like *most* of the panels this year have been standing room only. Maybe I’m just mistakenly attending all the most popular ones. :

    On the Apple fanboy note, it’s hilarious seeing the PC people’s reactions to being in the minority. Heard yesterday, “You have a PC, too? Thank god, I thought I was the only one!”

  5. Oh the seething jealousy! I was able to go last year, thanks to the company I work for, but this year cash is a little tight and Austin’s a fair way from the UK!

    I’ve been scrabbling around trying to find some of the presentations that have been made so far, although they really are second best compared to being there (Zeldmans keynotes slides make no sense at all!) Do SXSW stream any panels? If not, why not! I’d certainly pay to see some of them for the week.

    Last year’s event was pretty good although like you say I was a bit disapointed by Jason Fried’s presentation. The content was good, but the style of delivery kind of put me off and the fact he was plugging his new book at every opportunity.

    Looking forward to the “more later…”

  6. Sorry you felt that way about my talk this year. This advice isn’t idealist drivel, it’s real, it’s practical, and it works if you just give it a try. Sure, it’s unconventional and it’s different, but writing it off by saying it won’t work for you or it won’t work in your organization is a shame.

    No one made this work for us, we made it work for ourselves. Was it easy? No. But it was damn liberating and we’ve definitely been producing better work and our clients and customers have been extremely happy with the results.

    One thing I can promise you is this: It won’t work if “if won’t work” is the attitude you bring to the game.

    If you are happy with the way you are working now, then continue down that path. Everyone works in different ways. But if you think you can do better work and enjoy your work more, I’d recommend giving the Get Real method a try.

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