Lessons from SXSW 2019

Lesson 1: Listen to everyone.

I learned this one from Shakey Graves when he chose to throw a life lesson at the audience to try and improve lives and also to kill time as he re-tuned his guitar between songs.

Lesson 2: Get off screens and blink.

One of the most unique products showcased at SXSW was a device that helps relieve dry eye syndrome, a condition that has become more prevalent as we’ve increased the amount of time we spend looking at screens. It seems that when human beings engage with a screen, we blink considerably less than what our eyes need in order to properly lubricate themselves.

Lesson 3: “Disruptor” is not an occupation.

A top contender for Buzzword of the Decade has got to be “disruptor.” I hear “disruptor” used so often in so many different contexts that at this point I don’t know what the word means yet find it hilarious.

Lesson 4: Default to creative work and schedule promotional work.

I learned this one from Ryan Holiday after asking him how he advised reconciling doing focused, creative work and promoting it. His recommendation is simple and effective: Default to creative work and schedule your promotional work.

Lesson 5: The people you admire are just people.

Before I asked Ryan the question that led to Lesson 4, I was nervous. Wow. He’s Ryan Holiday. He introduced me to stoicism. I have to get this question right.

Lesson 6: Resist innovating for innovation’s sake.

Without naming any specific examples, there were several digital products showcased at SXSW that struck me as, well…unnecessary.

Lesson 7: Showmanship isn’t necessary.

John Paul White got onstage for his set at NPR’s Tiny Desk Family Hour wearing a well-pressed suit and a Martin acoustic guitar. No fireworks, no backup dancers, and no caged tigers. Only a suit and a guitar.

Lesson 8: When you’re not at your best, be a pro.

Gina Chávez, also featured during NPR’s Tiny Desk Family Hour, had arrived in Austin from a grueling tour and having to perform deeply emotional songs in an intimate setting. Before playing her first song, she was candid with the audience about not being at her best.

Lesson 9: Don’t hunch over your digital devices.

At SXSW, I met a computer scientist who was struggling with health issues due to years of hunching over his devices. In his words: “It’s not worth it.”

Lesson 10: People will ask you what you do, so have an answer.

My first day at SXSW, I met someone from a company that offers employee-training services. I asked him several questions and learned a lot about him and his career. Suddenly, he asked, “What do you do?” to which I replied, after pausing for way too long, “Uh…I’m a student.”


Lesson 11: Carry a journal.

You’ll learn more, more quickly. Plus, it’s a great tool to capture lessons learned at SXSW 2019 that you can then write into a short article.

The Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, TX. Photo by Lars Plougmann. Lesson 12: Go hike here!



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