SXSW began with a disappointment. My all-time favorite SXSW presenter, Kathy Sierra, was ill and unable to present on “Gamification and the battle for the user’s soul,” which I dearly would have loved to have seen. Kathy was influential in making me think deeply how Greenpeace could move from an engagement offer of “Join us because we rock” to “Join us because we’ll make YOU rock,” and is profoundly wise about things ranging from user interface design to hacking the reptilian brain’s attention centres to Icelandic horses.
The day got better, though, with three rocking good sessions.
“Brands as patterns” tackled the question of how to transition from the “Mad Men” days of advertising and PR in which a brand was established with a rigid handbook of rules about what it stood for and the key to establishing it in the public mind was simple repetition in as many broadcast media as possible. In the era of Social Media, the suggestion went, a brand isn’t owned by a corporation, it’s an interaction, an interface, a series of transactions — in short, a pattern. Implication: corporations no longer own their brands, they create them through that interaction, by what they do, not by what they say. Which, of course, goes a long way to explaining why a contradiction between those things, exposed, becomes a terminal velocity Social Media Meltdown. It also explains the leverage that activist groups now have against corporate ill-behaviour: their reputations have been democratized.
“Can growing a Moustache Change the World” was a “hugely popular in a tiny room” session, in which Movember founder Adam spoke about how an idea for a fun social event — growing a mustaches in November and shaving it off December 1st — transitioned to a cause (raising money and awareness around prostate cancer) with 450 dudes in Australia to the world’s biggest cancer fundraising event bringing in 117 million last year. Significantly, the idea was born in a pub. It was run by marketers and businessmen, not policy wonks. In fact, the biggest cancer charity in Australia turned them down when they pitched the concept — whoops. This was a wide-ranging, intimate (we were crushed) conversation which hit lots of buttons. Some big takeaways below.
“Superbetter” brought Jane McGonigal back to the stage with a strong reposte to the Colbert line “Am I really going to lie on my death bed regretting that I didn’t play more video games.” See my blog of a previous Jane Keynote for her original premise, which was roughly that gaming is statistically demonstrated to have so many benefits, we should be encouraging and our kids to do more, not less of them. (Up to a point, that is — there is an addiction threshold where benefits collapse). For today’s talk, she took the five most common regrets that researchers have identified as consistently expressed by the terminally ill, and systematically made the case that the right kind of games address every one of them: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard; I wish I’d spent more time with family; I wish I’d kept up with old friends; I wish I’d been who I wanted and not someone’s expectation.We then all played her game, Superbetter, which is designed to create micro tasks which will improve four key performance areas of your life. By Jane’s calculation, I will live 7 minutes longer for having spent that hour in her seminar. I think I just blew my extra time making a video of the queue at sxsw.