I just got back from the annual festival of musicians, geeks, engineers, film makers and, increasingly, marketers. It is a great stew of people. This is my second trip and I thought that my trip two years ago gave me a pretty good foundation for navigating the event this year. However, like all complex systems it adapts and changes.
This year was roughly 40% bigger than two years ago. That's a lot of change. I found the serendipity engine that I was so in awe of two years ago was not running at optimal capacity for me this year. It led me to some interesting conclusions:
- Productive serendipity requires boundaries - bigger is not necessarily better
- Serendipity requires unscheduled time by a large percentage of participants
- Serendipity requires aggregation
There was a lot of serendipity at SXSW this year - I looked up from drinks at one point and Ze Frank was standing in front of me. I love his stuff and that was serendipity but not really the productive variety - I'm more of a fan girl than someone who is interested in collaborating. Maybe I should have said hi but I left him in peace and continued the conversation I was having.
The people that I might more likely collaborate with were harder to find. With more people generally, those specific individuals made up a smaller percentage of the total population. Also because the conference was so large, panels and events were dispersed all over town with few consolidation points. Lastly and because the industry is growing, people were busy and had packed schedules so there were fewer people with the time and flexibility to mill around.
The social business lessons of SXSW this year was that aggregating a network that is not too small but not too big, giving them a catalyst, and then giving them the free time to mingle are all critical elements to productive serendipity.
That said, I managed to have some fantastic conversations, catch up with old friends, meet new people, and attend some great gatherings - it is no surprise that David Armano and Aaron Strout throw some of the best parties around. Thanks to all of you that made SXSW another great event.
Photo by Amancay Maahs