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Jim shares his thoughts on the trends from SXSW 2013.

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“The New Serendipity”

By: Unknown; Overheard in a group of people
Takeaway: Put yourself in a position to succeed
According to Wikipedia, the word serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

Trying to describe what goes on at the SXSW Interactive conference can be difficult, and so can choosing a single trend that emerged from it. In past years, major launches from Twitter (Microblogging) and Foursquare (Geolocation), made it easier to define a bigger trend in new media.

So whether the person I overheard talking about the term was referencing the panel with Kevin Rose called The New Serendipity, or just the overall trend of it, as referred to in the Wall Street Journal (Serendipity Is the New Synergy), I think we’re on to something.

Because our digital world is so fractured, there isn’t one trend or company or way of doing things that is right. Rather, our lives both inside and outside of work are made up of hard work, luck, and chance encounters. Pay attention, then put yourself in the right places at the right times for serendipity to happen.

Let’s explore some quotes from panels I attended to see what else emerges.

[Disclaimer: I scribbled these notes on the fly into my notebook, and often it was hard to get everything down exactly, and often multiple people on a panel. Some are paraphrased.]

“Push until you’re uncomfortable.”

By: Travis Kalanick, founder of the on-demand car company Uber
Takeaway: Startups aren’t easy

All it took was one stroll through the trade show floor to understand just how difficult launching a company can be. Or rather, launching a company might be easy. There were plenty of booths with catchy names and clever URLs offering the latest crowdsourced / big data / sharing economy / mobile engagement trends.

But how many of these companies will be around next year?

When I’m thinking about my life as a freelancer and working really hard and trying to drive new business, there are times when you can get down. But if it’s something you believe in, you really have to dig in.


I think I have it hard? Travis from Uber talked about not taking a salary for 4 years. He talked about living at home with his mom. He followed up by joking, “I didn’t have the ladies.”

But he worked through all that and is now transforming an entire industry and making people’s lives easier. His Uber cab service is so revolutionary, it has completely upended the traditional cab companies and shaken them out of their uninterrupted slumber.

With that comes very difficult new challenges. Much like Airbnb, who is doing the exact same thing to the well-established hotel industry, Travis is no longer thinking about just user experience and improvements to his app, he is fighting government agencies and taxi commissions with deep pockets and lots of red tape. I love what he’s doing. I’m rooting for the little guy.

“Crazy or Bluetooth?”

By: Matt Mullenweg from WordPress
Takeaway: New technology makes us do strange things, but many things stay the same
I had never heard Matt speak before, and was surprised at how incredibly laid back he was. In a world of self-aggrandizing software and social media titans commanding attention for their products and services, it was refreshing to hear his story.

Mullenweg was asked about Google Glass, the wearable, glasses-mounted computer display that in getting increasing press. He thought it was interesting the way users need to nod their head to activate the device, and then speak commands out loud, such as “OK glass, take a picture.”

Matt_MullenwegHe likened it to a game they play in San Francisco when they see someone on the street making strange gestations and talking to themselves – Crazy or Bluetooth? Is this a mentally disturbed individual, or just someone with an earpiece on a heated conference call?

But there were far more quotes to come:
“If I had $500 million in the bank, I’d still be doing the same thing I do every day.” When asked why he had not taken a buyout and sold WordPress

“130 of 150 employees at Automattic (makers of WordPress) work outside of San Francisco.” In reference to working remotely.

“The average blog post, has remained constant even in the Twitter age, at 280 words.” I thought this was fascinating. People talk about long form content, the increase in photos, people’s lack of attention span, and microblogging, yet he said that the average length of a blog post really hasn’t changed since they launched.

“Haters gonna hate, creators gonna create.” A common theme, but one worth repeating. There will always be people that are angry or jealous or just don’t get what you’re doing. The haters. Ignore them. Instead, acknowledge that they’ll always be there, and just keep creating.

“Don’t obsess about SEO, write well, be accurate, be right, provide insight, be the best, and embed photos within every post.”
Matt’s response when asked for a recommendation for the best way to write a blog post.” This was really great for me, as I’ve been teaching this to my advanced blogging students. Many times people are looking for the secret to the perfect post, or how to game the system on Google, or how to optimize SEO. Yes, there are lots of foundation things you should do, but in the end, it’s just write good content.

See Mullenweg’s summary of SXSW.

“Know your audience, but ignore their advice. Data does not replace insight.”

Author Baratunde Thurston and Paul Valerio, “a numbers guy in a design world”
Takeaway: Big data is good, insight is better
This pair had some great – and hilarious – insights into big data and digging into the stats, but the main takeaway for me was that there is going to be an escalating amount of data pouring at us from every direction, but the key is that it isn’t the pure data that is going to help us make better decisions for our websites and products, it’s having the right people with the right insight and experience to determine what that data really means, and put it to good use.

More from Bartunde and Paul

“Anyone who thinks they can predict 1-3 years out is mistaken.”

Fast Company’s Generation Flux panel
Takeaway: Embrace change
If there is a single story from the past year that has resonated with me, it would have to be Fast Company’s Generation Flux series. Editor Robert Safian explained that it’s not a demographic thing, or an age thing, but rather, people positioned for change in their career and lifestyle.


Other quick takeaways:
There is huge power in unstructured conversations… Twitter and new media make for a “digital watercooler.”

Reference to Jimmy Iovine from Interscope Records and as an innovator… He created $300 Beats by Dre headphones vs. $1.29 songs. Interestingly, I had only known of him as an American Idol mentor. He has a pretty awesome bio.

“Be the fast part of a slow company.” I think it was Safian who said this, and I thought it was brilliant. Not all of us can be entrepreneurs or work at a startup, but even in the most established or traditional companies, there is probably a group or a division that is ahead of the curve.

“Companies can be kind of like attending SXSW… there is chaos, it’s a little crazy, and most of the time, the best things are ones that you stumble into. Yet, there is overarching structure in terms of things like badges, apps, and programming.”

“Mommy, are you going to tell them how much you love what you do?”

By: Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka @SwissMiss
Takeaway: Truly love what you do
This was the third time I heard the Swiss Miss speak, and it was fantastic. This was the line that got me though, as she talked about the conversation she had with her children as she was preparing her keynote speech. When you look back at your life, or even when you’re talking to your kids or friends now, can you say you made a difference and truly loved what you do?


Two other that spoke right to my heart:

“In New York, everyone talks as fast as me, walks as fast as me, and is equally bubbling with ideas.”

“I tend to stay away from people that are fond of disliking things”

“Are you just listing software, or can you show what you do with them, what skill you have with them, how long you’ve been using them?”

Mike Dunn, creator of a visual resume
Takeaway: Add some flash to your resume
This was an interesting session on the future of resumes, and why they weren’t more visual. I thought this quote was so obvious that I can’t understand why no one has brought it up before. People often list software and programs on their resume… Word, Excel, Photoshop, Twitter, WordPress, CSS, HTML, etc.

But when you do that, it’s just a list of software. It doesn’t give a hiring manager any indication what you DO with them. Are you equally good at Word as you are with Ruby on Rails? Have you been programming for 4 months or 4 years?

With his unique resume, in 6 weeks, Mike Dunn had 12 phone interviews, 8 face to face interviews, and 2 offers.

Some other quick tips for a better resume:
– Googled weird/visual/unusual resumes for inspiration
– Use the phrase “Goals and motivators” as a bullet list to show your passions
– Add a quote on your resume that sums up who you are and what you stand for. Mike’s is: “Good UX isn’t about ‘getting it done’, it’s about
seeing the potential in every interaction.”

“Success doesn’t create happiness, happiness creates success.”

By: The happiness panel (Delivering Happiness, an offshoot of Zappos)
Takeaway: Make happiness the core of your company
This was more of an aspirational panel, but you need to work some of those in with the tech and hands-on ones. Their bottom line was that managers should foster an environment of happiness throughout an organization, vs. a goal of profits or shareholder value. If you start with happiness, those things will come.

They talked about 3 levels of happiness:
Rockstar (in which you are constantly chasing the high)
Flow (in which you are fully engaged, I’ve written about flow before)
Higher purpose (when you’re working for something bigger than you)

“Elon Effing Musk”

By: Me
Takeaway: I was blown away by all the things he is doing
I am going to do a separate post/podcast on Elon in the coming weeks.

[Secret Quote]

By: Close friends
Takeaway: Long meals = happiness
Once again one of the top highlights of the entire week wasn’t a panel or a keynote speaker or a party. It was when 8 of us got together for a private dinner. Two of the friends I see on a weekly basis in New York. Two others I only see in real life at SXSW. The others I met for the very first time that evening.


My friend Helen instituted a strict “no checking your phone” rule to kick off the dinner, and despite some initial objections and questionable trips “to the bathroom,” it was a great way to keep us all fully engaged for 2+ hours. The food was great. The drinks were great. One of the biggest celebrities on the internet was hosting their own dinner party immediately to our left, and we had some fun with that. And the biggest laugh of the night came when we once again played our incredibly nerdy game of “what is the strangest domain name that you own?” Clearly, a game that would only be played at SXSW.

And so ended another year of serendipity at SXSW… with the usual mix of technology, inspiration, and connections.

Check out my free online salary negotiation course, “How to Negotiate Salary: The Negotiation Mindset.”

Sponsor Message: Freshbooks Fresh Take of the Week: IRL

IRL. It stands for In Real Life, and it’s crucial to your business success. I was lucky enough to meet Faraz Shafaghi, a social media marketer at Freshbooks while at SXSW. He attended my session, then I did a video interview with him, which you can see on The Hopkinson Report.com.

People ask if it is worth it to go to these conferences, which definitely can get expensive when you add everything up. But there is an advantage of meeting people offline that you can’t put a price on. Make it happen for your business.

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