SXSW Wrap-up: Moving the needle & our cheese

Looking back on our four days in Austin, we were struck by a common message spoken and implied by the many purpose-driven speakers we listened to. Here it is: Find an organizing principle for your company, your project, product or community to move the needle.

Why? Because you are unlikely to change the future without focus and agreement on your principle. And you are likely to be surprised at the impact you will have on all aspects of your work (culture, secondary initiatives, etc.) This statement can be deceptively simple, but in a panel on “first principles thinking,” the discussion touched on the difficulty of drilling down to what really matters.

A great example of a focused organizing principle came from the group behind a partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and, who declared “Health should be a design goal.” They suggest that if an organization had health as their core focus for any product they designed, modified or optimized, they would make a difference in in the lives of their customers, employees, and, in fact, have greater social impact than a once-a-year volunteering opportunity. It would make social impact a part of the everyday.

If we had to find one organizing principle for SXSW, it would be “eliminating inequity.” Many were thinking, talking, and presenting on this topic and how it applies to various fields. If they weren’t, you could be sure they’d get a question from the audience on the topic. The organizers of SXSW, or those who voted for the talks, clearly selected for issues surrounding diversity, inclusion, and equity. For example, the Design track was dominated by talks such as:

  • Achieving Gender Equity in Design Leadership
  • Close the Digital Divide: Design for Social Impact
  • How You Can Fight Bias with Cntent Strategy
  • The Language of Aroma, Designing for Inclusivity
  • Virtual Humanity: Designing Ethical Immersive Worlds
  • Code is Not Neutral
  • 400 Years of Inequality

More than ever, social responsibility and the desire to make the world a better place was palpable at SXSW. Art installations like “Belonging(s)” told the story of displaced people and their stories about immigrating to Australia. They ask the question: “What if you had to leave your homeland forever? What’s the one item you couldn’t live without?” Videos of immigrants holding their beloved object and talking about why it was so important were deeply moving. It was in sharp contrast with the filmmaker's comment; “... for many in the developed world can be consumed with material object.s” It also felt like a bit of a poke in the ribs of the US.


We continued to explore the connection of art, culture, and technology in viewing installations like those mentioned above. Attending a talk by Google Arts & Culture about the power of art, culture, and technology to unite, teach, connect, and inspire innovation was a beautiful highlight.


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