Change is accelerated, exponential and global

This was the fifth edition of the SXSW congress in Austin. I always wonder if it will be the last … and know that I will be eager to return. It is not routine, but rather a sustained capacity for wonder and inspiration that I experience at this event every year. Once again, the experience this year was a complete one: the almost 24-hours getting their and back, the magic and karma of the city, the hectic pace of the conference over the course of its Interactive five days, the meetings and reencounters with speakers and colleagues from different parts of the world, and, of course, the knowledge acquired at the sessions I was able to attend.

With regards to the whole first part of the experience, the best thing that I can recommend is to experience it for yourselves (some of you are already doing so) and, about the last thing, the learning, what I am doing for yet another year on this blog is to share it. As Professor Ramez Naam said at the program I attended at Singularity University, at the end of January, 2018: when you share an asset, a product or a service with strangers, or even someone you know, you may end up losing it. But when what you share is an idea, or knowledge, you will never lose it. It will always be yours. On the contrary, if this serves for others to build on it, this knowledge will undoubtedly be developed further (it will have “offspring”) and become even more valuable. They say that in this new collaborative environment to live is to share, so here are my key takeaways from this year’s edition.

The Design of Immersive Experiences: The New Era of Marketing

Brands can no longer establish connections with their users based on intrusion, on the unidirectionality typical of traditional commercial communications.

This isn’t anything new. But in 2018 it must be said that audiences do not consume goods or services, but rather brand experiences, which must be a natural part of their time: from prime time, to my time. Are we able to become part the conversations of the people we want to attract? Are we capable of making that experience one of immersion, of smell, of touch, and the humanization of the brand? Are we capable of turning them into evangelists for our brands, so that they are our best advertising resources and agents?

HBO led by example at the SXSW, presenting its Discover WestWorld immersive action:

In accord with this vision, I would like to refer to the discussion panel starring NASCAR, an entertainment company dedicated to motorsports competition; and VaynerMedia, a comprehensive digital services agency founded in 2009 by Gary Vaynerchuck. The theme revolved around the concept “One Message, Many Voices”. NASCAR executives came to share and praise the transformation they had undergone in recent years thanks to the agency: from intrusive advertising to the generation of their own content, and more generated by users (UGC) through social media marketing. Their message was their close collaboration with the big Madison Avenue agencies was history, because they did not understand the concept of Permission Marketing, as Seth Godin calls it.

As an example, they talked not only about the micro-videos uploaded to their social networks, to foster conversation and a sense of community, but also the use of their Facebook Watch channel, an excellent Facebook feature aimed at competing with YouTube and thematic channels like Netflix and HBO. (Facebook Watch is not available in Spain yet). Here below is a brief link to an interview with Bob Safian, until very recently editor of Fast Company and, since January 2018, founder of The Flux Group, where he shares the strategy behind Facebook Watch in the context of a Social Web increasingly based on video.

Bob Safian

What is incredible, in my opinion, is that in 2018 we are still experiencing this paradigm shift in the way we build brands. The message of taking risks, embracing failure, learning from mistakes, and persevering, remains a constant. After all, it has been more than 10 years since the mass adoption of social media marketing.

Type R and Disruption

In line with the above, there were several coaching presentations on personal management by entrepreneurs or those responsible for leading change – and not only that change that has already taken place, and to which one often arrives late, but also all the accelerated and exponential changes bound to come over the next two decades. The world will belong to those who are not only able to adapt to this environment, but also those who drive it by creating entirely new categories of products and services. The world will belong to those who see each morning as “day one” of an organization or project.

Type R was a presentation by Ama Marston in which she spoke of resilience as a crucial personal attribute to survive and enjoy this very dynamic and exciting world. These were the key points:

Turn challenges into opportunities in this turbulent world
Failures, stress and struggles are scenarios that facilitate learning and personal growth
One can grow by overcoming an unexpected trauma
Continuous learning can prepare us for adaptation
Learning requires vulnerability
Emotions and behaviors are contagious

In the end the key is not necessarily to overcome the concern or fear that disruptive technologies can generate. Rather, the key is to be disruptive yourself. Technologies are a means. You must define their ends. And that is the exciting thing about it: the opportunity to contribute individually to changing the world. Envision what you think the future is going to be, or what you want it to be, and refine it, relentlessly.

The Future of the Screenless Internet

Chris Ferrel, director of Digital Strategy at The Richards Group underscored in his talk that we are already on a voyage from mobile first to voice first in terms of our Internet browsing. He predicts that by 2020 30% of consumption via the Web will be through voice-based devices. In fact, by 2021 these will surpass the prevalence of mobile devices. In short, we are headed for a Conversational Web: from the screen, to speakers; from a visual Web to an audio Web; from Face Down to Chin Up surfing.

Having this type of device at home, at work or in our car will lead us, as human beings, to establish emotional ties to them. They will be like our friends. Well, even better than friends, as they will listen to us, and speak to us, not only giving us information, but also their best recommendations, ever faithful to us.

Italian grandmother chatting with a Google Home device

What opportunities have arisen for us, as brand managers? As many as we want, as long as we view this technology as a way to fortify human links with our users, and not as elements for intrusive communication, and never to hack information.

Imagine how valuable this could be for all those people living alone… and all those who will do so, as life expectancy rises, and the current system of social support falters.

Tension, Fake News, Manipulation and Privacy

Inevitably, this was one of the topics addressed at different sessions. When SXSW was held, the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook story had not yet broken.

YouTube venue at SXSW 2018

Fjord identified as tendencies for 2018 our slavery to algorithms, the problems of transparency and ethics, and our dubious privacy in front of computers that observe us.

Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s CEO, participated in a plenary session, interviewed by a journalist who did not hesitate to ask her some very tough questions about the measures this organization is taking in the interest of the transparency and quality of its videos:

These include the recruitment of 10,000 new employees responsible for reviewing and ensuring the quality of the contents, and the use of Wikipedia entries so that the viewer of a video on YouTube can check the accuracy of content with what the collaborative encyclopedia says.


Aside from the fact that it is a crime to sell data that violates your privacy for purposes of any kind, and this must have legal and criminal consequences, it is also true that one must be a bit naive to think that the only drawback entailed by these types of free platforms – which allow us to access knowledge and express ourselves, and to communicate with the whole world – would be some advertising.

Man has always been vulnerable to manipulation, with or without the Internet or Social Media. Group behavior, a lack of individual critical analysis, the power of political and social correctness, the conformity-breeding effects of propaganda, have always been there, and still are.

The solution, I think, lies more in nurturing the individual’s critical capacities, and having the courage to advance and defend valid arguments before others.

Self-driving Cars

This is one of the exponential technologies that will radically transform the concept of transport over the next 15-20 years.

John Krafcick, CEO of Waymo, a company of the Alphabet group, participated in a plenary session, sharing with the audience the status of the project he is heading up.

Waymo’s moonshot is the dramatic reduction – or elimination- of fatalities in conventional cars, as 1.5 million people die every year in traffic accidents around the world.

The cars that Waymo is currently testing in different areas of the USA use radar, lasers, and 360º cameras.

Krafcick wanted to make clear that it is not Alphabet’s intention to manufacture and market Waymo cars, but rather to sell this technology to current manufacturers of conventional vehicles that want to embrace the concept of automatic driving, pursuing what he calls the best driving experience in the world. In line with this, Waymo already has an alliance with Fiat-Chrysler. In addition, last week a new agreement between Waymo and Jaguar was announced for the latter to manufacture 20,000 autonomous electric SUVs. And yesterday Bloomberg announced, in this article, progress in commercial negotiations with Honda.

Meanwhile, between the end of the 2018 edition of SXSW and the writing of this post there were two fatal accidents involving autonomous cars in autopilot mode: an Uber car hit and killed a cyclist, and a Tesla car lost control, crashing into a median on a road in Mountain View, California.

Towards Technological Singularity… and Beyond

Two different sessions featured two futurists and co-founders of Singularity University: Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis.

Ray Kurzweil at SXSW 2018

It may be disquieting to hear, but in just 11 years, by 2029, we will have reached the stage of Singularity: machines will have the same level of consciousness as humans.

Far from worrying, both visionaries urge us to receive with open arms all that this will mean in terms of accelerated and exponential change in every business sector, in our private lives, and the progress of humanity in dealing with the VUCA (Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) shaping our lives.

Peter Diamandis at SXSW 2018

The Net’s multi-connectivity and global access to it reached by 2025 (the world’s 8 billion people will be Internet users), the increase in navigation speed thanks to 5G in 2020, up to 10 Gbps; and a sharp drop in prices will spawn greater democratization and access to exponential technologies:

  • Sensors and connectors
  • Synthetic Biology
  • Robots
  • 3D Printing
  • Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality
  • Blockchain
  • Drones
  • Artificial Intelligence

The best part of all this is not the access to these technologies at the individual level, but rather the unexpected convergence between them (which is already occurring) and the emergence and creation of new business models that we had never even imagined.

What will our relationship with brands, companies, institutions, peers, friends and family be like in the future, when our pre-frontal neocortex can be connected to the Cloud through a synthetic neocortex, without the need for any mediating device (as we do now with Dropbox, iCloud, etc. through our computers and mobile devices)?

Diamandis concluded his speech by presenting a challenge with a 10 million USD prize that sounds like something out of science fiction, but which is actually real and achievable considering all of the above: the Avatar project for teleportation; that is, the capacity to transmit your skills and services anywhere, at any time, anywhere in the world.

All of us are the protagonists

Once again, this dynamic and endless context called the Digital Revolution makes it possible for the individual, and entire groups of individuals organized to pursue common goals, to be protagonists.

The technologies are there, now available to everyone. Technology itself does nothing. It is the use to which we put it that achieves goals and objectives that once seemed unattainable. Let’s take advantage of the opportunity to be active agents of change. Why wait passively to see how this plays out and influences our lives? Why complain that we do not like (or do not understand) it, if we can fight for a better future for all?

Yes, it is true that it can be hard for us to leave our comfort zones, take responsibility for our own lives, and not cede it to institutions, political parties or states. It may seem arduous to be constantly reinventing ourselves, demanding more of ourselves, and striving to constantly learn new things.
But, in my opinion, this is the best way for everyone, especially for the young people who are going to succeed us and live in the exciting world of tomorrow.

With Esther González Eceizabarrena @estherg93 at SXSW 2018

To conclude this post – which would be endless if I shared every detail of the five days spent in Austin – suffice to say I am sure I want to return for SXSW 2019!

Meanwhile, as always… Keep Austin Weird!

Ángel González

By Ángel González

Founder & CEO