Asda Toyota SXSW

SXSW: Why are you in town Sir? Business or pleasure? Both. I hope.

March 16, 2014 | 5 min read

This year, ASDA's head of social, Dom Burch, took his team to Austin to experience and learn what SXSW Interactive had to offer. Here, on his return, he offers some insight into his experience of a festival so huge that it holds a personal and unique journey for every single attendee.

I have just returned from attending SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas for the first time

To those following events from afar, SXSW may just look like one big jolly.

But I beg to differ...

It's a melting pot of the kind of people I most identify with. Creative types. Social media bods. Digital innovators. And party goers.

In recent years Austin has gained a reputation for being the coolest City in America.

Home to one of the youngest populations, what was a sleepy Texan town is now bigger than San Francisco.

A combination of Californian promise and stubborn southern independence (Texas is the lone star state, the only US state allowed to fly its flag higher than the national flag).

Keep Austin Weird is the town's motto. Something you see almost as often as the State flag.

Out on its streets there is a heady mix of quirky hippy madness, making the town seem somewhat out of place alongside the oil rich city of Dallas and the aeronautical hot spot of Houston.

I read in the BA in-flight magazine that Austin is the only place in the State, possibly entire US where it is considered acceptable to swim in its central lake in the nude.

SXSW is one part conference, one part festival and one hell of a party by all accounts.

The Interactive conference which proceeds the better known music festival has 800 events crammed into five magical days. I start off with a small session in the Courtyard Marriot called 'Workplace redesign: the big shift from efficiency to collaboration?'

Full of interesting case studies like Toyota turning its entire workforce into problem solvers.

Or Steve Jobs when at Pixar who deliberately didn't employ enough serving staff in the company canteen so people in different teams would be forced to queue up. What do you do in a queue with work colleagues? Talk to each other. Cross pollinating ideas. Smart guy that Jobs was.

Off to the next event. This time Austin Kleon delivering a keynote about the theme from his new book 'Show Your Work'

Austin in Austin no less. He offers up a few gems including: Shut up and listen; Don't be a hoarder; Teach what you know; and the Importance of attribution.

Then it was a quick dash to Mashable House to swing on a big wrecking ball Mylie Cyrus stylee and stroke a grumpy cat.

Ok. At this point I admit the work element of SXSW is slipping towards the pleasure aspect. But all the while inspiration is around you, infecting your being. Brands jostling for attention. Start ups showing off their new app, their new city friendly motorised scooter or their new social network.

My particular favourite brand on display was Samsung who'd cleverly employed a team of battery exchange angels. Simply stop them on the street and they'd swap your flat battery for a fully charged one. Failing that tweet #poweron and they'd come find you. Genius.

As the days and nights passed I grew fonder and fonder of Austin, its people, and its spirit.

Some argue it has grown too big. Lost its uniqueness.

Maybe so for the original old timers. But for a SXSW virgin like me it was everything I'd hoped for and more.

Weird. Wonderful. And truly inspirational.

Roll on next year Austin.

Burch's Top Five Sessions

Austin Kleon's keynote

Bernie Su and Jay Bushman's session on transmedia storytelling

Robert Scoble's and Gary Shapiro's #techtrends session

How to run a badass TEDx

And Yu-kai Chou's session on Gamification

Burch's Biggest disappointment

Biz Stone talk. Left half way through. Sorry Biz. No offence.

Biggest surprise

Edward Snowden. Very compelling speaker, even via dodgy Google Hangout connection

Weirdest moment

Swinging on a Mashable branded wrecking ball

Update: On my return I heard the awful news of the car crash that killed two and injured many others. But for the grace of God go I. Thoughts are with everyone cruelly affected.

Asda Toyota SXSW

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