Don't let the creative magic of SXSW die on the plane home

SXSW: 2015 keynote speaker Martine Rothblatt
SXSW: 2015 keynote speaker Martine Rothblatt

It can be hard to justify the huge block of time away from your desk that is SXSW - but it's worth it for the ideas, writes David Caygill, creative technology director at Iris.

This is always a tough time. The agency is having the usual Q1 run of intense work, which is demanding thought, care and attention.

Key meetings are getting hard to schedule, projects have to be resourced up, pitch teams formed, morning coffees with interesting people get reprioritised for status meetings, sleep and interests-outside-of-work become distant memories.

All this is being driven by a looming blank in my Outlook calendar. Close to a week of what looks like space. No little squares jostling for their slot. The kind of single-minded scheduling that happens maybe twice a year. This one is of course SXSW.

During times like these it can be challenging to remember the value that the event gives. The idea of taking time for ‘inspiration’ or ‘networking’ or ‘finding the next big thing’ seems so indulgent that I start to feel guilty.

This is all part of why SXSW is actually so important. So different to other events of its kind. Because you have to fly 11+ hours, because you’re -6 hours from GMT, because you have to be there for at least 3 days, if not seven, it means you have to switch off from the day to day. You get a rare and beautiful opportunity to look up and see someone else’s vision of the future. Some new ways of thinking.

It is easy to get wrapped up in your own reality, in the things that matter in your own organisation.

They become disproportionately weighty in strategic development, both internally and for clients. SXSW is a great way to get that ‘fresh eyes’ perspective on the world again. To re-evaluate what is important to you, to your company and to your clients.

This year I’ve been judging the SXSWi awards. The diversity of the entries echo the entire event.

You end up deciding between things like a collaborative maker platform like Wevolver, a touch interface for Google Cardboard, or a multi sensory immersive music experience. Bonkers, impossible? Yes. However after a while, the general vibe of attempting something brave and different is the thing you absorb.

We’re taking some real newbies this year, and I always love it when we can extend the invite to new folks. Lots of people ask me for tips on how best to handle SXSW. My top 3 would be:

Don’t be a slave to the schedule 

Make sure you give yourself as much time to explore as you can. Schedule a few key things in, but leave yourself room to manoeuvre. If you meet someone who’s passionate about something, take their advice and follow, especially if it is in an area you’re not familiar with.

Go to Bruce Sterling’s closing remarks

There will be a few talks that will define SXSW and dominate the press coverage. With a bit of luck and a prevailing wind you’ll catch them. If you’re not sure which will be the big thoughts or takeaways, go and see the cynical, rambling and poetic futurist writer Bruce Sterling’s deliver his annual closing remarks.

Make a realistic plan of what to do with it all before you get home

If all has gone well by your last day you’ll be full of ideas and ambition. You’ll have a new-found enthusiasm for your professional and personal life. Spend a couple of hours formulating that into a plan. Specific and realistic actions you can get on with. If possible start them before you leave. Form that team, start that initiative, fire off those emails. Within 38 seconds of walking back through the door of the office it will be 100 times harder.

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