Insights

My 10 take-aways from SXSW 2022 (and spoiler: It’s not the octopus’ 🐙 fault)

Every year in spring, over 250k people from our industry come together in Austin, Texas for a festival of innovation, technology, music, and film known as SXSW. The common goal is to chart the future of basically anything ranging from health, mobility, and entertainment to the “future of the future”. This year was a bit different and I’ll save your time by not repeating everything about web3 and the metaverse.

My 10 take-aways from SXSW 2022 (and spoiler: It’s not the octopus’ 🐙 fault)

Every year in spring, over 250k people from our industry come together in Austin, Texas for a festival of innovation, technology, music, and film known as SXSW. The common goal is to chart the the future of basically anything ranging from health, mobility, and entertainment to the “future of the future”. This year was a bit different and I’ll save your time by not repeating everything about web3 and the metaverse.

The ticket I used in 2022 was actually paid for in 2019. SXSW simply got postponed and postponed again. Finally happening this year, it felt really different – much smaller, less crowded, more heavily sponsored. But still mind-blowing. Most of the time.

#1 Watch out – animal metaphors taking over SXSW!

The very first talk didn’t go my way. When Jonathan Brill introduced his new book “Rogue Waves” by talking about “octopus thinking”, he lost me completely. The thing is I hate random animal metaphors. Too much lion-mamba-panther mentality – instant motivational trainer stuff. I loved his point on fighting for foresight-based future-proof strategies inside corporations, but the whole thing left me writing a note to myself: better to check the descriptions in the SXSW schedule.

My 10 take-aways from SXSW 2022

#2 The small panels killed it – again.

The best part of SXSW over the years were the small panels of well-prepared experts giving hands-on talks about true innovation and their challenges to a smaller audience – ideally at 11.30—12.30, the slot just before lunch. Because you can approach the speakers and they’re not usually in a rush. The perfect example was “Personal Air Vehicles: What’s Next?” — and yes, since we’ve been talking about eVOTLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing) for quite some time, the panel was announced as being a catch-up on the progress over the past three years.

This session had everything: First, fantastic panelists from NASA, Odys Aviation and Near Earth Autonomy giving valuable, ultra-short 2-minute ignite talks. Second, a knowledgeable facilitator from Starburst Ventures who aimed for a great discussion and then allowed a luxurious 15 minutes for questions from an audience full of experts from the public sector, such as airports, and closed industries like Elon Musk’s Starlink. Loved it!

sxsw-edenspiekermann-small-panels

#3 Will future design leave behind its James Bond aesthetics?

Just a snapshot, but I couldn’t hold back. As a company that works for organizations on future developments and how to prepare for them, we try hard to reflect on our own biases and be aware of our own, often inherent, concepts of futures and how to best leave them at the door. In this talk about envisioning new habitats in space I spotted a funny artifact: Ray and Charles Eames plywood chairs from 1945-46 to illustrate future housing on the moon. Well, that was a good reminder to keep challenging ourselves and our assumptions about the future and the people we design for.

Will future design leave behind its James Bond aesthetics?

#4 Four great researchers asking all the right questions

These four researchers demonstrated how to pose the really important questions. The topic was journeying to Mars. Brooke Grindlinger (New York Academy of Sciences), Erika Nesvold (Justspace Alliance), Eliah Overbey (Weill Cornell Medicine) and Charity Phillips-Lander (Southwest Research Institute) raised all the big questions in their panel on “Alienating Mars: Challenges of Space Colonization”: How can we make sure we’re not repeating on Mars all the mistakes associated with the word “colonization”? And if we can live on Mars, who will go? Yes, they resisted all the fast, cheap answers, but left a few of the tough questions open as research should end on a fun note with Matt Damon’s line from "The Martian" trailer: “I'm going to have to science the shit out of this.”

PANEL Mars

#5 What’s your transformation right now?

There was a funny coincidence with an old 1962 VW bus parked just one block away from the newest iteration of the same. Looking at both vehicles led me to ask whether we’ve come far enough in 60 years of mobility.

What’s your transformation right now?

#6 Health equity above all

Besides the future of mobility, my focus was also on the future of health – and SXSW 2022 didn’t fall short on this one. The most popular word here was equity (used in the program 122 times). It’s finally happening, and seeing advocacy groups at eye-level with corporates is great – talking about how this will make sense to more than just a few people: Yes, yes, and yes again!

But you really had to dig deeper to find good sessions amongst too much sponsoring and a very obvious trade fair-like health convention. One highlight was an interesting discussion on ”Digital Acceleration + The Tech-Enabled Patient” . It was good to see a strong patient advocate like Maimah Karmo with her Tigerlily Foundation raising the tough questions about health equity and advocacy. Since COVID, the future of health has been at home, so digital healthcare and self-service are now much more evident. But digital healthcare is not necessarily safe – exposing your illness, your body to tele-healthcare will not feel safe without more powerful innovations based on radical patient-centric thinking. Big hurdles, big tasks.

PANEL HealthEquity

#7 My home is my (food, wellness & health) castle

Prevention is everything! The future is at home! It was actually interesting to see a panel combining food, wellness & health innovations. But I’ve still got mixed feelings about the fact that the pandemic is pushing big innovations – at home.

PANEL Fitness

#8 Turning corners smoothly

By the way Tesla, would you please distribute the new autopilot to us city-center workers in Germany too? Turning left hands-free in a busy city center as smoothly as this Uber sweetheart (and Tesla employee) did was just great.

Turning corners smoothly

#9 SXSW was still a celeb magnet

While there, I stumbled across this little gem where Anne Hathaway, who was promoting her movie “We Crashed” with Jared Leto on the story of WeWork, was talking to Stephen Colbert about how she enjoyed Austin, SXSW, and the local food scene: “Every minute we were in Austin, we were eating.” Anne, I feel with you.

SXSW was still a celeb magnet

#10 SXSW is like an octopus!

It takes eight arms to catch up with all the catch-ups on the city of Austin, the future of mobility, health and everything beyond, and the city of Austin in general. SXSW might have gotten a bit smaller and more sponsored, but this photo taken in front of Cenote, our favorite breakfast place, is the perfect ending – with open arms for 2023.

SXSW is like an octopus