It is tempting to search for the next big thing. There were no shortage of journalists sent to SXSW this past weekend for their annual quest to answer exactly that question. And this year many came up empty — or at least indifferent. Some even skipped the event completely. Of course we like to see winners and losers. And SXSW certainly has the track record of a kingmaking conference (Twitter and Foursquare both launched there).
The reason SXSW actually matters, though, has almost nothing to do with the technology that launches there. It is not really about finding investors or even recruiting new talent either. Sure those things happen, but the vast majority of the attendees at SXSW are not launching anything or hiring anyone. So what are they doing?
Seeking inspiration is the #1 reason people attend SXSW.
Through the onslaught of speaking sessions, parties, intimate gatherings and private meetings – people find their own inspiration. It may come from hearing Elon Musk talk about realizing the potential of humanity through space travel. Or it may come from a chance encounter with someone while waiting in line for a party. We all want inspiration to be able to start something new, or to do our own work better. At SXSW, this inspiration comes from the serendipity of being in the same place with so many optimistic idea seekers and creators.
The one word reason SXSW matters is INTERSECTION.
Every industry needs this kind of moment – but many are just concentrated in a single industry. The power of SXSW is that everyone can come together at a single moment and share ideas across industry, practice field, expertise, or event interest area. We learn the most when we surround ourselves with people who think about different things than ourselves.
SXSW may be fueled by a unity of geeks who love technology and launch ideas – but you don’t always need to find one big thing in order to declare the event a success. If there is one thing history shows us, it is that bringing smart people together always has a way of paying off in the end.