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March 15, 2011

News & Opinion: SXSW and other movements

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:19 AM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

We just returned from our first time attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX. Between the informative sessions, networking, after-parties, and even our own late night discussions, it was information overload in the best way possible. While many blogs and Twitter feeds will tell you about specific sessions and speakers, what really struck me is the event itself, and that each year, so many people gather in one place, hungry for knowledge sharing.

In fact, the festival, who used to be known mainly for music, is now seeing the Interactive portion surpass it in attendance numbers. As the audience grows, so does Austin's economy. As seen in the SXSW economic fact sheet, last year's festival brought $113 million to the local economy. Attendees have a great time, and the city that hosts them also benefits. Seems like an ideal situation all around.

However, one night during the event, my co-worker Zach and I walked to an agency party pretty far out of the downtown area where most of the SXSW activity occurs. It was a part of town I hadn't been to before, so we both were more observant of the scenery around us - the bars, homes, and businesses that lined the streets.

Then we saw this (picture to the right, taken by Zach):



This was a sign outside of a business. A business most certainly affected by the annual multi-million dollar economic boost the city receives from the fest. Yet obviously, they were not supporters. To them, if you're involved in SXSW, you're not welcome in their tribe.

This post is not to debate the foolishness or independence of their position, but rather to simply point out the complexity of movements. Ironically, the Interactive portion of the fest itself dealt heavily with ideas about building communities, new business models, etc. While this sign at first seemed shocking to me (in fact, it compelled me to hide my badge), it represented what the fest was about in many ways - entrepreneurship, independence, and not being afraid to start one's own movement - which is exactly what the founders of SXSW likely were interested in when they began their small little festival idea years ago.

Sure, there were some great speakers at SXSW - Guy Kawasaki, Chris Guillebeau and Jonathan Fields, Spike Jones, Rolf Skyberg, Matthew Holt, and many others - some of who we even work with here at 800-CEO-READ, but I felt like the scope of this event is what really effected me the most: observing and thinking about how people worked with it and outside of it, and what that says about the current state of business and technology. Hopefully that inspires you to think about the movements you're involved in, and encourages you to start your own.