A few weeks ago I once again had the pleasure of attending the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, TX. Sandwiched in-between the film and music portion of the festival, the Interactive portion brings some of the best thinkers and companies in the industry to one place for three jam-packed exciting days. Why should in-house creative leaders pay attention to what goes on at SXSW? Oh, let me count (and share) the ways! If you didn't have the pleasure of attending, I am pleased to bring back information from my experiences that I feel would be most beneficial for in-house creative leaders. What I couldn't bring back is the energy, fun, excitement and sometimes-downright weirdness the event brings. You will just have to go next year and experience it for yourself!

Here are some key takeaways from the sessions I attended. If these resonate with you, I encourage you to check out the speaker - each one was excellent.

"The Hard Things About Hard Things"
Ben Horowitz, Co-Founder and Partner, Andreessen Horowitz and Nas

  • Focus on the things you need to get right, and stop worrying about the things you did wrong. Always keep focused on your next move.
  • No leader has "it" when he or she starts. The good ones figure "it" out over time. There is a lot of learning on the job, but obviously the challenging part is people expect you to have all the answers. Find comfort that most great leaders are in the same exact situation. Be confident in who you are and why you were put in your role.
  • When a leader is facing very intense competition, you need to be very linear in your thinking. A "war time" leader needs to be very decisive. A peacetime leader can be very collaborative and consensus building. Is your department under attack? Or are you in steady state peacetime? The answer to that question needs to shape your current leadership approach.
  • On firing people you are close with: the most important day is their last day. No matter how many positive days that person had, they will always remember how they are treated on their last day. Leaders need to be present in these moments.

"Career Advice for Creatives from the Walking Dead"
William Colgrove, Founder and CCO, Threespot

  • Lead, follow, or get eaten. Being a good team member is important to being a creative soul.
  • Creatives need to be promiscuous. You need to move around to keep your skills fresh and relevant.
  • Know your tools. You need to be an expert in the tools you use to do your job.
  • Have a plan for your career. Do you know where you want to be in the next five years and do you have a plan to get there? If not, start now.
  • Avoid conflict for conflict sake. There will always be disagreements, but be very careful about open conflict and the impact it has on the team.

"Equipping and Inspiring the Next Generation"
Dean Kamen, CEO, FIRST/DEKA Research and Development Corporation

  • Technology, when well applied, is the answer to many of the world's problems. The challenge is the problems keep rapidly coming, and there aren't enough young people learning tech to keep up.
  • We send kids to school as question marks, and they come out as periods. We need to get them hands-on and foster curiosity.
  • There should be a bill of responsibilities along with our bill of rights. We are the luckiest people in the world.
  • What is your company doing to encourage training and hands-on learning on the new technologies that are shaping our industry? Young people are curious by nature and we need to give opportunities for them to foster their creativity in a hands-on way.

General observations:

  • Our brands are trying to communicate and relate with a HYPER distracted audience. Sure, we know overall that people have shorter attention spans than they used to and are addicted to their devices. But there is nothing quite like experiencing this all in one place. When I would walk into a room prior to the speaker starting, and there would be complete silence and 100% of the people would be focused on their phone or tablet. The thought of speaking to the person next to you almost seemed taboo. It was a whole new way to look at "networking.".
  • If the speaker didn't get to the point quickly and keep the audience engaged, people had no problem just getting up and walking out. The demographic attending SXSW Interactive requires instant gratification, and if they feel you aren't hitting what they are interested in they bail. On the other hand, people would constantly walk into presentations midway through probably, because they left a session that wasn't keeping their attention. The key takeaway is that you need to instantly engage your target audience in interactive, and then continue to tell a compelling story throughout your message. There are just too many other options competing for your audiences' attention.

One of the major goals of SXSW is to provoke thinking. Which one of these key takeaways has inspired you to challenge your current situation? Are you ready to act and move on it?