As I sit here watching the snow fall (Snow!! In March!!), I think back to the perfect 70 degree weather and all the great ideas I left behind. While at SXSWi, I fit in a good mix of talks, parties, and general hangingoutness. Obviously, I only saw a small fraction of the talks but there were a few themes that seemed relevant to the year ahead.
Startups, startups, startups everywhere. There was no escape from flyers, t-shirts, and food trucks sponsored by startups (Squarespace had the best food). Even an entire floor of the Hilton was devoted to Startup Village. I personally loved this because I’ve always been fascinated with entrepreneurship and love working with startups.
One of the best sessions on entrepreneurship was by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. Often referring to their latest book The Start-up of You they talked about taking ideas that drive startups and applying them to your own life. The traditional career path is dying and we need to start thinking more like entrepreneurs. Startups are always refining and improving their products, something they call “permanent beta.” The same is true for you and me. You never actually “make it.” It’s more like you’re on a journey to continually improve yourself and to take advantage of new opportunities.
While you’re on this journey, you need a vision and a plan to adapt. Instead of developing a plan and sticking to it, have a plan to move towards your goal with the ability to change your approach as new opportunities arise. Finally, you must take intelligent risks. This allows you to build up resilience so when true risk enters your life, you’re able to adapt. Avoiding risk is probably one of the riskiest things you can do.
A saw few talks on storytelling but one of the best ones was Does Your Product Have a Plot? by David Womack from R/GA. It’s a bit tricky to discuss his talk without his gorgeous slides but hopefully R/GA will post them soon on SlideShare. Update: the slides are up!
David mostly talked about all-important plot triangle where you have an intro, conflict, climax, and finally a resolution. All great stories work this way and you’d be wise to follow this method when crafting stories for your business. Storytelling is something to keep in mind when developing your content marketing; it makes your business more interesting to potential customers and can help investors understand your business when you’re trying to raise capital.
He harped on the fact that designers are always talking about simplicity but in actuality people crave complexity and conflict. That’s emotional complexity by the way, not functional complexity. Emotional complexity is what keeps us coming back again and again because stories are addictive. As time goes on, we crave more and more complexity. For example, an episode of I Love Lucy had an average of 6 characters where an episode of Desperate Housewives has about 15. What companies need to do is to continually increase the emotional complexity of their products to keep people coming back. Foursquare does an excellent job of this by adding new (& relevant) features over time.
Sustaining the new economy
The talk with Tim O’Reilly and Andrew Mcaffe was an eye-opener for me. Tim talked about how the activities we do on a daily basis can’t be measured for the GDP. For example, if you dry clothes on a clothesline instead of a dryer you’re actually shrinking the economy. Or if you spend an hour on Facebook instead of watching a blockbuster movie, it can’t be measured by today’s standards. We need to find a way to measure these activities and *pay* people to sustain the economy.
Companies that originally served us (like banks) are now working to exploit us to make more profits for its shareholders. If you continually take away from the economy and don’t give back, pretty soon no one will have enough money to buy your products. On the bright side, some companies are adapting to this new economy. For example, Apple employs a great number of people at its retail stores. More than they need really, but it makes for a stellar customer experience.
Another example is how Etsy is putting the labor cost back into the economy. Tim recently bought a hand painted IKEA lamp on Etsy. Originally worth $10, the lamp is now a hand-crafted piece of art costing $300. Jaron Lanier also talked about this topic (at the same time as O’Reilly grrr..).