By Carl Ratcliff, CEO, One Green Bean Australia

This year I had the good fortune of attending Austin’s SxSW.

Once I got my head round the extraordinary flavour of Texan queso, the unexpected silkiness of 100% agave tequila and the restorative effects of a breakfast taco, I settled into what can only be described as the coolest freshers’ week on the planet. Parties, people and (this year especially, I gather) politics played out over the grid of downtown Austin.

The festival is cut three ways: Film, Interactive and Music.

I was there for Interactive, but each bleeds into the other and for the first time this year my interactive badge entitled me ‘secondary’ entry into countless other parts of the festival.

Previously, I had been told SxSW is a totem for the future. ‘My guiding northstar for the year ahead’, an erstwhile colleague told me: the future, packaged up for now.

This year felt different, in my opinion.

Sure there was tech: VR. AI. Artifical and augmented. Neuroscience, molecular science and science mavericks. There was a whole heap of future bundled up and in the exhibition halls and rooms of the conference centre. A space large enough to incorporate 823 ½ football fields I was told.

But then this year too there was genuine emphasis – as antidote to Trump perhaps? – on human intelligence. More specifically, humanity. From the rousing call for ‘love not tolerance’ from Senator Cory Booker to Jennifer Doudna’s inspired genius in genetics – the very essence of human; from the stirring survival story of adventure photographer, Cory Richards to Yasmin Green’s implicit attack on fake news’ breach of human contract: trust.

Each day was packed with themes of HI, not AI, such as human centred story telling in VR (‘the agency of game, the empathy of film, the immersion of this medium’ described Maureen Fan from Boabab Studios); John Hagel from Deloitte’s assertion that we will become more, not less creative, as AI becomes more capable and Visible Measure’s Seraj Bharwani’s demand that attention is the core metric brands should be chasing in social video. And beyond.

Of particular note, was Adam Grant’s keynote. Harvard professor and psychologist. Author of The Originals. I’d argue it was the keynote’s keynote. And whilst the entire Austin experience produces a cumulative effect on your inspiration, it was Grant’s recap of his ‘Originals’ thesis that stood out the most.

His research and myriad stories boiled down to the following:

  • Originals are in fact risk averse, and manage their side hustle as a side hustle until it becomes their main hustle
  • Originals reject false negatives and know that their peer group offers the freshest eyes on whether an idea is any good, versus their boss or gatekeeper – those who tend to skew conservative in their estimation or rely too heavily on intuition when judging ‘originality’
  • Originals make the familiar, unfamiliar and build bridges into and onto their frame of thinking – recounting a story about Lion King, Grant told how Disney execs took to the idea once they understood it as ‘Hamlet with Lions, not Bambi in Africa….’
  • Originals admit their weakness – in a pitch environment admit your weakness. And be honest. It works wonders.
  • Originals hire differently and whilst start ups should hire on the basis of cultural fit, larger companies – Ideo is a great case study – should hire on the basis of cultural contribution.
  • Originals fight group think and invite their teams to problem articulate not just problem solve – consider the use of a ‘problem box’ in the office or deploy a ‘kill the company’ workshop to shake off the obvious.
  • If you like Simon Sinek, you’ll like Adam Grant. (See what I did there…)

Overall, Austin is a network of thoughts and ideas. Some new. Some trite. But all able to deliver an experience that is different to the person you’re stood next to in a queue. Everyone’s itinerary is different. Unique.

And that’s the joy.

In many ways the festival is a brilliant ode to the awesome and extraordinary meanderings of the creative mind, whether that’s in film, music or above our heads, in the stars. Hearing Buzz Aldrin recount a conversation that he and Neil Armstrong had as the latter walked out onto the moon, was pretty special.

But perhaps social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuck, best summed up this year with his plea for ‘now’. We don’t know what will happen in the future, how can we, he quipped. All we know is that ‘humans will still want cool shit’.

Notwithstanding Gary, is there a trend then, for the year ahead?

Well, I know my good friend Adam Ferrier might balk at this, but I’d say 2017 is the year of ‘humanity’. And we should market our brands, our businesses, even our agencies, like we give a damn for its betterment.

One Green Bean will definitely be going next year. And helping keep Austin weird.

To hear more on how SXSW can give you five conversations you can have with clients tomorrow, the Account Planning Group is hosting “Insights from SXSW 2017” in Sydney on April 12 and Melbourne on April 20. Places are limited – book here.

This article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.