SXSW was in full swing last week in Austin.  The streets soaked in the art and talent from hundreds of performers, small and big who rocked our town.
This is a tribute to all the artists who turned up.
To your courage to create.


Ask anyone
Serious about their craft
Nothing happens overnight
A price has to be paid
There is no lottery
Spiraling you to fame

Ask anyone
Who taps the muse
A fleeting touch
A spark
A forgotten note

Ask anyone
Who showed up for years
Playing till dawn
Ignoring the whispers
Questioning their talent

Ask anyone
Who worries about mediocrity
Wearing heart on sleeve
About being left to wallow
Like a weed, untended, ignored

Ask anyone
Fearing the day
That nothing will follow
A blank page
With naught to offer
Or a canvas
Of empty
Of feet that fail
Voice that falters
Hands that fumble
Memory that lapses
Leaving fragments of fear

Ask anyone
Who has had one glimpse
Of Creation
Who has experienced
Singular connection
Manna from heaven
Leaving doubt by the wayside
And logic at the wake

Ask anyone
Who knows all of the above
They will tell you
If they had to choose once more
At the road that forked
Between highway and hell
They would still choose the pain
All over again

—Shaku Selvakumar March 2013


Future Flux at SXSW 2012

Southby Interactive kicked off last Friday with unprecedented rain, traffic and long queues that took a couple of hours for attendees just to pick up their badges.  What do you do when you are in a long queue?  Two things, you can either pick up your smart phone or ipad and check emails, make calls and occasionally mumble about wondering if you were ever going to find the holy grail or you could start a conversation with the person next to you.

So I ended up talking to Katie in front of me who was a creative director of a boutique agency from New York and Pavan who hailed from the West Coast working for Cisco.  We spoke about why she co founded her own company and how business was booming for certain industries, why talent is always valued.  Suddenly the queue didn’t matter so much.  You also realize that while social channels enable faster communications and provide the ability to stay in touch, connections are essentially made by people reaching out.

I call SXSWi the woodstock for social geeks.  There were sessions on emerging technology,  Lean American and start ups were the domain of the Hilton, the keynotes and yoga were owned by the Austin Convention Center, Sheraton covered Journalism/Media, Hilton Garden covered New Business, Mariott provided food for thought on the Future of Work. I am sure I have missed out a few.  Book signings by known and unknown authors with business booming at the Barnes and Noble bookstore.  In addition, Screenburn at the Palmer Event Center was dedicated to gaming and a Tradeshow that opened on Monday where one could load up on some great swag.  There were sponsors with networking lounges.  Breakfast, lunch and evening parties.  No dearth of the good liquid and I am not talking water here.

SXSW depends on its volunteers who keep the this 9 day show combining Film, Music and Interactive and this year there were over 2000 volunteers at SXSWi.

What I learnt:

Big change is here.  It was a concurrent theme.  Use the technology to be the change.  Adapt or die.  I know, pretty drastic.  But like Kat Mandelstein’s presentation, Small is the new Big and Big is the new small.  Your business, whether you are a small business owner or a large enterprise, how well you leverage the tools that are there is going to make the difference on whether you are around for the next decade.  I had the opportunity to listen to Matt Barrie, CEO of and talk to him later about business models changing with companies and independents bidding for work done and delivered from any corner of the world.  The day of the agile worker is here. Fast company’s panel featuring Pete Cashmore, Baratunde Thurston, DJ Patil, Raina Kumra, Beth Comstock, Danah Boyd and Bob Greenberg on Generation Flux sums it up as chaos so be nimble, adaptable and unafraid.  Get ready for the four year career, with job tenure getting shorter and constantly updating your skill set, becoming the new normal.

Digital Engagement: For those who think the social layer is about Facebook and Twitter or even Pinterest, think again.  The social layer is affecting every part of business.  From the way products are being developed for consumers, to distribution, to pricing to promotion.  The end user is collaborating internally and externally in defining how industries adapt.  Companies, like Amazon which is now giving Walmart a run for its money, who understand the integrated ecosystem and digital experience will bring in the dollars.

Social Voice Opening keynote Baratunde Thurston talked about comedy and satire to bring about social change.  From Eygpt to Iran to America.  Comedy is not a laughing matter anymore.  There is a growing concern to shine the spotlight on corruption and greed.  The power of the internet and social media channels are allowing for individuals to come together to affect change on policies that even five years ago would not have been contemplated.  Think Susan B Komen.  Think Kony.  Think SOPA/PIPA.

Citizens not consumers. “We are the ones we have been waiting for” Stop complaining about the problem and be part of the solution.  Code for America founder, Jennifer Pahlka’s rallied passionately about American cities needing its people to step up and help.  Pahlka worked with Tim O’Reilly and Web 2.0 before starting this program which is helping cities across America by working with developers.  Pahlka showcased some good examples of the cities stepping up and stated that government does not equal politics and we should enable collective action through technology.  Her 7 ways that you can help included going into public service, joining the brigade, leveraging open data, living like citizens not consumers by helping the government and taking part in rewiring society.  Her speech ended up inspiring one person to actually tweet “Pahlka for President” 🙂

The Future is Magnificent if you prepare for it. I had heard Ray Kurzweil keynote at IBM’s Impact Conference two years ago and was looking forward to the keynote at SXSWi and he didn’t disappoint.  On Monday, Ray spoke to the audience first and was then interviewed by Lev Grossman, Time magazine and author of The Magician, Codex and others.  Ray spoke about technological singularity which is about a time when human beings and artificial intelligence will combine to accelerate innovation at unprecedented speed.  Calling out IBM’s Watson which could understand the subtlety of language, he predicted that search engines would be able to search conversations to predict human requirements.   These technologies will be at 1000 times more powerful in 1o years.  He also spoke about the promise vs the peril of biotechnology about the greater good vs its use for bio terrorism.  Every other aspect of biology is scaling exponentially.  We are walking around with updated software in our body.  Health and medicine is now information technology.  In twenty years, nanobots in your bloodstream will make you live longer.  Ray Kurzweil is essentially an optimist who believes that “we truly are what we think”.

Beam me up, Scotty.  Who knows what the future holds.

Pin this Many of us are into pinning and it was a treat to listen to Pinterest co founder Ben Silbermann talk to Chris Dixon. What I enjoyed was the honest, down to earth conversation where Ben speaks about the importance of relationships, getting thick skinned about your dream, seeing failure as one more option that is off the table, the importance of the team, staying in touch with the initial users whose feedback helped modify the platform and of course not taking too much advice.  Every company must cut its own path.  Chris Dixon did an excellent job asking the right questions.  We often underestimate the importance of the interviewer and that a good interview becomes a great conversation.

Gaming is not child’s play.  There were many sessions on gaming and SoLoMo.  The one I enjoyed most was designer of alternate reality games, Jane McGonigal’s talk about her game SuperBetter.  In 2009 after she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury that almost made her suicidal, Jane used gaming to bring her back from the edge. According to Jane, “SuperBetter helps you achieve your health goals — or recover from an illness or injury — by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.” Jane keynotes at IBM Impact this May as well so I am looking forward to hearing her again.

Technology matters.  But art makes the merger magic.  Of course you can’t go to SXSW and not be touched by the immense creativity of its artists.  I had to listen to Joss Whedon as I am a huge Buffy fan.  The Slayer was created at a time when vampires weren’t fashionable.  The series covered groundbreaking topics in its story arc over 7 seasons.  Despite being shunted out of Fox and then landing at UPN, Whedon continued to blaze a trail.

Heard film maker Kirby Ferguson discuss with author Austin Kleon on how everything is a remix.  We constantly are influenced by others and derivative work and mashups are the new norm.

Lisa Kudrow joined a panel to discuss the success of web originals.  She jokes, very Phoebe like, about how people looked down on her when she started making Web Therapy which is in its fourth season.  The success of Web Therapy , Felicia Day’s Dragon Age and others, with the crossover of the web and TV, we are seeing shifts in entertainment, advertising and studio funding.

Daniel Burwen, Cognito Comics talked about taking comic book content on a game layer with interactive features to readers through the iPad.  Like Kindle disrupted the book, Cognito takes the digital pen to comics

Social Spirit

Heard Rainn “Dwight Shrute” Wilson go from extremely funny to spiritual with his Soul Pancake philosophy.  It was actually humanizing in many ways to see someone who is known for being thick skinned and boorish on TV talk to a huge audience about what really mattered to him.  “Soul pancake because spirit taco and metaphysical milkshake was taken”

Post Secret was started by Frank Warren as a blogspot project encouraging people to share their secrets about pain, fear, joy and ease their burden via anonymous postcards.  Based on the number of postcards they received about people with suicidal thoughts, the site put up a suicide watch on Facebook.  The site has more than a million fans.  At SXSW, the entire presentation was put to music by Blue Brain Music which released its location based music testing app.

Starting Up with Lean America I try to make time to see the start up accelerator which is a little like American Idol only the company gets about 15 mins to pitch in front of a panel of  judges and the audience gets to ask questions too.  These were the ones I heard.  If I had the time, I would have stayed the entire day to listen to these great ideas.  Last year, I heard Hipmunk and Storify present.  Both award winners. : Slovenian startup that provides an easy way to make free calls to other users from a landline, iphone or through the web.  Provides profile urls and disposable urls. : Austin based Facebook app that allows students to collaborate with classmates and teachers for study requirements and tutoring.

SceneTap: Another Austin based start up that utilizes facial recognition technology to track customer analytics in a venue or particular space.  Provides an admin tool for venue operators and a social network for consumers.  Politicians should worry about this app 🙂

Votifi : A mobile polling and analytics company that helps people explore issues.  Could be useful for governments to ascertain voter pulse.

Thirst: Mobile app that aggregates updates from Twitter, Facebook etc by topic so the user doesn’t miss key conversations.

Word! At the Bookstore

If you can say it, we’ll draw it. By ogilvynotes.  I still have their keynote infographics from last year and true to form, they commissioned artists to capture the essence of core sessions and provided copies for the attendees.  For those interested, go to to download these.

The company I keptThe highlight of any conference was, yes, you guessed it, the people I got to meet.  I got to match the voices to the faces of the many cool IBMers I work with mainly on our conference calls.  The IBM Social Lounge had a stream of visitors and marquee interviews.

I also enjoyed my own company.  When you head out on your own, there are places you will go and people you will meet whom you never thought you would meet.  Umm, yes that is me with a Glomper.

Shaku and the Glomper. Picture by Ryan Boyles

Serendipity and SXSW

The 90 Minute Solution. Keynote by Tony Schwartz. Courtesy OgilvyNotes

Southby is a feast.  A ten day buffet with film, music, interactive and the thread that strings it all together “the art of expression”.

It is not about technology, or the latest widgets, gadgets whatever.  You cannot be everywhere.  If your legs don’t give out, your mind certainly will, faster than the battery on your latest iPhone.

And that is tough because you always wish that you had tried the food that someone else rated very highly.

I went alone because I wanted to invite serendipity.  Don’t get me wrong, going with friends, colleagues, family is great and while it provides a shared experience, when you go alone, you chart your experience based on just your instinct.

Continuous transformation is not about constant movement.  It is to do with an inherent awareness about what is needed to integrate learning into daily life.   My top 7  on what differentiates a good event from a memorable one:

1. Food for thought:  Inspiring speakers and words that launch a 1000 blogs

  • Day 1 keynote:  Seth Priebatsch, a Princeton dropout and all of 22 years, walks on stage wearing an orange polo shirt, jeans.   Seth Priebatsch is the creator of SCVNGR and LevelUp social gaming sites and Chief Ninja.  According to the wiki, the goal of the SVNGR application is to “build the game layer on top of the world”.  As of March 2011, SCVNGR has raised $20 million in venture funding and had a valuation of $100 million. Seth owns the stage because he is completely passionate about gamification.  He talks about the social layer which was all about connecting people.  The Facebook effect.  Now he believes we have moved to the game layer which is all about influencing actions.  The Groupon effect which operates on three principles.  A free lunch.  A countdown.  Communal game play.  Gamification is all about setting the parameters and the structure but keeping the environment flexible so the participants are able to influence and build upon outcomes.
  • Day 2 keynote, Chris Poole is again in his early twenties and the founder of 4chan.  Quoting the wiki again, 4chan is an English-language imageboard website. Launched on October 1, 2003, its boards are primarily used for the posting of pictures and discussion of manga and anime. Users generally post anonymously and the site has been linked to Internet subcultures and activism, most notably Project Chanology.  Anonymity seems to encourage a level of freedom to be more honest and engaged according to Chris Poole and he has about 25 million monthly active users.  Imagine dropping an idea into a communal lake and watching the ripples carry it forward and soon in the spirit of true collaboration, some are sticky and some are not.   Some go viral and some don’t take off.  Wasn’t that how the internet was born?
  • Day 3 keynote is about Felicia Day who I would find out later is an actress and is the successful web producer of the web series The Guild. Day is the creator, writer, and star of The Guild, a web series which started airing its fourth season in July 2010. The first season was primarily hosted on YouTube where it garnered millions of views.  A SXSW volunteer and a University of Texas Alum and valedictorian, Felicia talks about how she started The Guild with no funding and a script that she believed in.  She built the series with donations from the viewers by putting a paypal button and funding each upcoming episode.  Like all good stories with a nice ending, Felicia’s first season becomes a hit, the second season is picked up by big names and the rest is history and more than 15 mins of fame.  Listening to her talk about social, talk about being relevant, and that you cannot be everything to everyone.  “In gaming, storytelling is the future.”  Actually storytelling is the past, present and future of any company, brand or service.  If we cannot tell a story that resonates, why would anyone want to commit to you or your brand?
  • What I was totally unprepared for was, Bruce Sterling‘s closing keynote who exalted the power of social media, applauded SXSW and added that it had gotten too big to invite everyone over for a party at his home which was apparently a tradition.  He then went into the realm of decaying Italian politics, moved to the apathetic state of the baby boomer generation to take responsibility for the mess the world was in and finally ended up with a rousing wake up call to the millenials to take charge of the world.  “Young people: Move to Austin. Take over the town. Make friends with the Army and the cops. You are the Army and the cops. Don’t listen to any grey haired professors explaining why change is impossible…be realistic, demand the impossible. Days of rage, baby. Up against the wall!” Another one that I liked.  “Another world is inevitable. The future is unwritten. Good luck to you!”  I guess wake up calls are never polite and courteous.  If you don’t holler, you don’t get heard.  If you don’t get heard then nothing changes.

There were many other sessions that were good including Google’s Marissa Mayer taking about the future of location mapping.  Guy Kawasaki about what it takes to enchant your audience and Tony Schwartz and the 90 minute solution.

2. Practical Innovation : Cool companies with hot ideas

Check these interactive winners:

Hipmunk:  I was listening to the Hipmunk co founder pitching his business model at the SXSW accelerator and could see how easily he was able to articulate the idea, engage the audience with the website and answer the questions posed by the judges.  A good idea becomes great when you can explain it to your grandmother. Check them out.

Storify:  Is still in the beta stage.  But basically can aggregate your social media content into a story format.  Now why didn’t I think of this?

Xomo Digital: Loved talking to the co founder at the Southby Tradeshow and the mobile app they built for SXSW was right on the money.

3. Location, Location, Location

Yes I am biased but I don’t think Southby would be as cool in any other town than Austin, Texas.  We like keeping it weird and wonderful here.

4. Flexibility.  Your agenda is nobody’s business

With hundreds of sessions every day, you become very picky about making every hour count.  I saw folks walk in and out of sessions.  If something didn’t work, there was always another room, another speaker, another lounge or another business to meet on the showfloor. 

5. Fun.  A little laughter drives a lot of good business

Fun meant booming business for Austin as almost every pub or bar or restaurant downtown was either hosting a private party or had an overflow of networking dinners.

6. People. People. PeopleThey make the difference

The SXSW volunteers…one word.  Awesome.  Ok another word as well.  Helpful.

Met some wonderful people.  That happens a lot with me.  Like Katie Linendoll, who is very cool in my well read book,  tweeted today, “I am grateful for the days that I am am able to connect with the people I know I am meant to connect with. Make sense?”  Yes it does, Katie.  That is serendipity.

Hung out for a bit at Ignite Austin and tried to figure out what the world will be like in 2021.  I must say, it’s going to be pretty amazing if some of those visionary presenters, who probably had chugged something fantastic, had anything to do with it.  But that is where the seed is planted.  In the soil of the unimaginable, on the edges of world, tripping the light fantastic.

Also met the cool IBM social media team at the IBM Watson party.  You talk,  tweet and share but there is nothing like a face to face meeting that cements a working relationship.

7. Watercoolers

More books by my bedside. Signed by the authors….

  • Evil Plans by Hugh MacLeod.  Finished reading this one first cos I need my own Evil Plan…muahhhahhahha.  Read my previous post for a preview.
  • Martian Summer by Andrew Kessler.  I heard Andrew talk at the Ogilvy Stage and was fascinated by his account.  He was allowed to shadow the 2009 Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which would make the groundbreaking discovery of water and ice on Mars.  Witty, self deprecating yet a passionate advocate of man, science, discovery and the fact that we don’t talk about NASA as much as we ought to.
  • Empowered by Josh Bernoff  Loved GroundSwell by Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li and had the opportunity to meet him in person.
  • Engage by Brian Solis Altimeter Group announced that Brian Solis would be joining them at SXSW and I can see why!
  • Game Storming by Grey, Brown and Macanufo This one needs no explanation 🙂

I hope to find time to read these books between midnight and 2 am.

I know this post is a few weeks late and you folks may have moved on to better, bigger and more exciting things…but hey I had to finish my post.

Life’s like that.

You have to finish what you start or you have a string of unfinished sentences, unwritten books, unclaimed emotions, unused gifts and untethered dreams.