Lessons From SXSW: Get Comfortable With Getting Uncomfortable

Lessons From SXSW: Get Comfortable With Getting Uncomfortable

In this guest column, Leo Burnett Sydney’s group business director Jonny Bucknall has just returned from the creative festival SXSW in Texas, and he says he found the pace of change frightening and reassuring in equal parts…

Katy Denis
Posted by Katy Denis

My first SXSW experience saw me on the search for a little bit of hope.

In a world that’s a touch bleak at the moment I hoped to find some innovation for good, that’s making a difference. Surely this would be the place for a glimmer of optimism. I went broader than marketing to find a true barometer of where we’re heading. 

After the turbulence of 2016, the world has irreversibly changed but the overwhelming sentiment I found is that 2017 is the time to do something about it. Hope can only happen if you can make a difference but expecting everyone else to change things up won’t get us anywhere. Tech companies will always have big disruptive innovation ideas but this was more about incremental innovation: institutions, communities and individuals needing to shift things up – often. Asking questions begins the process. As Senator Cory Booker put it “the folks are getting woke.

From author Adam Grant to a panel of American Mayors, people spoke of ‘getting energised’ by this ‘awakening’. An awake consumer is a good thing, brands and institutions will have to be more accountable and people will demand more. People understand the impact their decisions have on the world and acting. An example being buying disposable fashion, which endorses the institutions that they’re frustrated by and so they’re choosing to buy less. Everything is politics: We are the biggest source of the problem – we can cause change.

So brands need to tap into this sentiment with purpose, responsibility and the innovation will become cyclical. The dichotomy being, that people are spending longer task switching on their phones to the point it’s changing our brain makeup but making more considered purchases.

This is all very well for wealthy consumers but what if people don’t have the luxury of choice. This is where some examples of good news gave me some hope. The farm to table movement is clearly better for the environment, our communities and frankly our bodies but it’s a privileged choice for the minority. But the American food industry is a $5 Trillion dollar industry – watch Kimbul Musk, Elon Musk’s surprisingly inspirational brother, disrupt it by democratising real food. His 50/50 burger will reduce meat consumption; the price and it will taste delicious. The plans his companies have over the next few years are exciting and on a similar scale to his brother’s focus on disrupting the energy market with batteries.

So individuals are waking up but institutions are equally challenging convention through innovation. They are beginning to question the role of law to get to a solution that is wanted and necessary. The most obvious example being Uber but there are examples where huge strides are being taken in medicine and policymaking will need to keep up. This innovation is coming from unlikely places as AI unlocks more doors. Intel’s “All in one day” cancer treatment plans appear to use data to hasten the process for cancer patients. Closer to home outdated alcohol taxation laws are hitting Australian craft breweries when the rest of the world is thriving in this category. Speed is a currency.

The message that has come with the “getting energised” is never settle: Get on the creative offence not defence, keep evaluating where your business is at. The world doesn’t stay still, neither should we and so getting out of our comfort zones and asking questions or interrogating motivations, will ultimately lead to a better end product, that consumers are asking for. There’s going to be a need for more diverse thinking, more trial and error while continuing to listen to consumers.

A brand with purpose is not a new thing but that purpose will gain more attention and in an attention-economy that means success. Know what you are and what you aren’t but find your purpose and a motivation for the audience to get a memorable connection and they’ll like you a lot more for it.

I’m certainly more optimistic about the future; there are some inspirational leaders, initiatives and start-ups being created. Music will sound better, content more interesting as there is more substance and by getting energised now who knows what you can achieve. As Candice Morgan from Pinterest put it: “Get comfortable with getting uncomfortable”.