Austin is weird. The town’s tagline, “a collaborative fission of coordinated individualism,” is part hilarious and part profound. However it really is on point... the town is extra-ordinarily unique. Maybe it’s the ratio of dive bars to coffee shops, or the endless live music and array of life-changing BBQ, but there's definitely something brewing in the heart of Texas - and each March its flying colors become magnified when South by Southwest hits the scene. What started in 1987 as a music festival with 700 registrants has turned into a gathering of prodigious proportions. Tens of thousands of people now celebrate the 10-day event, which has become a fusion of technology, entertainment, and all-things relevant and / or remarkable. It's chaotic at times, with keynotes popping into the fray with just a tweet heads up - attendees have to always be on their toes. But it's all so much fun and worth the trip. SXSW is a crazy, quirky melting pot of themes, voices and vibes, which each year manifests a kaleidoscopic experience unlike anything in the world today.
Well, almost anything... If SXSW had a parallel, it’s closest relative would be the Internet. Both phenomenon host a seemingly infinite collection of flavors and possibilities, all of which come together and collide into one temple of creativity and fun. This year’s South by had everyone from Al Gore and Elon Musk to Shaquille O’Neil and Prince. There were all sorts of startups, bloggers, filmmakers, musicians, ardent fans, et al. uniting in the streets of Austin; molecules of every origin, shape and size bouncing off each other, floating in a sea of fun and opportunity.
Whether it’s the world wide web or Austin, when so much passion and enthusiasm coalesce in one environment, emergent properties arise. On the Internet it takes form on sites like Reddit and Digg, but at SXSW we see it through the experience of actually being there. Festival life is a totally different world, and after a couple of days you learn it requires a totally different game plan, to navigate and maximize your experience. What follows are three lessons learned from SXSW 2013 that hopefully have some merit outside the confines of Austin. When taken with a grain of salt, these rules can transcend just about any situation and help show the way to all sorts of weird goodness and unintended merriment.
So, drum roll please...
#1) The Plan is No Plan
There's always a million things we want to do, but there’s only a handful we actually can do. So how do we choose? Choose not to choose. Have some basic objectives and musts, but the key is to relax, smile, and go with the flow. Take whatever opportunities that come your way “by the horns,” and don’t limit yourself to what happens inside the box... All the magic happens outside your comfort zone.
#2) Don’t Be Another Sheep
There is a ton of beehive mentality at work, at festivals, online, and in life in general. We have a tendency to follow others... monkey see, monkey do. You need to break away from the shackles of mindless agreement and take a mindful adventure. Pursue your bliss. Embrace your idiosyncratic interests. Just because there’s a huge waiting line doesn’t mean it’s the only party in town. Find the hidden gems. The needles in the haystack. The smaller the venue, the more chance of you being front row center for all the action.
#3) Engineer Serendipity
This lessons builds off the first two, but takes some extra due diligence to actually fabricate or bring to fruition. Merriam-Webster defines serendipity as the “faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” This is ideal at festivals, online and in life; there are so many adjacent possibles and rabbit holes waiting for our spirit to materialize, we just need to find them... and also always be ready, for it could be us as the ones being found.
So how do you engineer something you don’t even know you’re looking for? Be yourself, be prepared, and go out in the world with positive energy and a yearning for connection. If you do these three things, you’ll have a good story to tell.
From your personal festival experiences, what would you add to the list?