For those who’ve never attended this event, SXSW is one of the leading events showcasing the latest cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity, featuring compelling presentations and panels from the brightest minds in emerging technology.

Having learnt so much during SXSW 2013 it made sense to attend again. And this time I was joined by Simon Dance (VP, Product) and Rachel McCourty (COO), following a great catch-up with our US Team in Dallas.

Once again the scale of the event amazed me. For just the ‘Interactive’ part there was over 30k+ of attendees from all over the world, such is the draw of the speakers and topics.

Since the Interactive inception over $490m has been awarded to over 71 start-up companies.

And once again it was tough simply trying to decide which talks to attend. Having three people there helped!

Here are the highlights of SXSW 2104

A very popular talk was the The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt (Executive Chairman, Google) and Jared Cohen (Director of Google Ideas, Google). This drew a strong crowd understandably. It was a fascinating discussion on the digital age and the impact specifically in emerging countries.

As part of their research for their book, Eric and Jared traveled to thirty-five countries, including some of the world’s most volatile regions. They wanted to understand how technology will change the way we approach issues like privacy and security, war, diplomacy, revolution and terrorism.

And there are many examples of the changes happening right now.

Jared Cohen

Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt take part in a discussion at Oasis: The Montgomery Summit in Santa Monica, where the company’s push beyond search was a topic. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon, Bloomberg

We all know the the smartphone revolution has already happened in the modern world but it’s expected to explode in the developing countries in the next 3 to 5 years. But already the impact they’re having is extraordinary. For example, children in African nations are using Google Maps to plan and share routes to school that avoid known land containing IED’s.

And In Iran the government there is so concerned with citizens accessing the internet and any information that could cause public disruption that they’ve publicly stated their intention to separate Iran’s internet access from the rest of the web. Basically creating an ‘intranet’ for Iran. Completely self-enclosed.

Eric and Jarod then went on to discuss how technology is impacting employment. For at least 20 years the employment model on manufacturing has had to shift itself due to robotics. For example in car production. Repetitive manual labour was replaced by more efficient robots to increase production. We are now starting to see this in software and other automated products where again repetitive manual labour can be made more efficient. Software is becoming more intelligent.

As Schmidt said recently at Oasis: The Montgomery Summit: “Technology is evolving from asking a question to making a relevant recommendation. It will figure out things you care about and make recommendations. That’s possible with today’s technology.”

This is something at Interact Intranet we actively embrace. We want to stop people having to manually recommend content to others and let our Intelligence Store do all the work.

Many-tools-save-time

One of the major keynote sessions was by the infamous Julian Assange. This drew a huge crowd as he speaks publicly very rarely.

SXSW is known for huge queues for keynotes but in this case the bigger queue was people wanting to leave. As most people know he’s currently based in the Ecuadorian embassy and so the interview was conducted via Skype.

Technical glitches aside, the answers provided by Assange to questions coming in from twitter and by the interviewer were very drawn out and simply not engaging. It was a huge deal for SXSW organisers getting Assange to speak but unfortunately it didn’t work.

Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson on the other hand then showed how a keynote should be done.

Dr Tyson is probably one the most passionate and personable speakers I’ve ever seen. Obviously extremely comfortable in speaking to large crowds he immediately engaged with the audience and began to explain science, space, and why dinosaurs never had a space program.

Neil-deGrasse-Tyson
Host Neil DeGrasse Tyson participates in FOX’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” panel at the FOX Winter TCA Press Tour, on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.

Mashable produced this top 10 list of his quotes from the day:

1. “A scientist is just a kid who never grew up.”

2. “Science literacy is how much do you still wonder about the world around you. What is your state of curiosity?”

3. “You can’t just choose what is true and what isn’t.”

4. “All the nine-planet people out there, just get over it. It’s eight!”

5. “There’s so much to be impressed with in the universe. I don’t want you to be distracted by things in the universe that are not.”

6. “One reason we should go space: You know the dinosaurs would have gone there if they could have. Dinosaurs didn’t have opposable thumbs or a space program, though.”

7. “To be scientifically literate is to know when someone else is full of bologna sandwich.”

8. “The missing skepticism is the problem.”

9. “If we’re trying to go into the 21st century and be competitive, we can’t just believe we’ll be competitive.”

10. “I would encourage you to not become attached to the number of things. There’s no physics in the number of things.”

In summary Dr Tyson was trying to encourage everyone to question why things work and not just accept things as they are. In other words, the power of why.

This is a mantra we at Interact Intranet strongly believe in. In order to succeed as a company we had to constantly evolve to better serve our customers. This is throughout the company and through all departments.

In or Product Team our developers look to always ensure that they question why first before starting a new project, or in Sales (an area I know very well) our intranet consultants will always question why a prospect achieve a certain goal and whether our software can assist them meeting their goal.

And certainly at a senior level I, and the other members of the leadership team, are always looking to question why, then make sensible changes to continue our success and growth.

Conventional wisdom says employees who question why are a huge pain. In reality, they are doing you a huge favour.

Understanding the importance of their work – the “why” – motivated them to get better results. A salesperson tells, a good salesperson explains and a great salesperson demonstrates.

Innovation is not for the exclusive area of leadership. Employees who respectfully ask why are demonstrating an interest in their jobs and exhibiting a curiosity that could eventually translate into leadership ability. Encouraging them is essential!

At Interact Intranet we see this as critical in the success of our company to provide successful intranets for our customers.